Agency FD left battered and sore? The reality may surprise you…

When you commission a financial audit of one of your agencies, is it inevitably going to destroy the trust in the relationship?

Let’s just suppose for a minute that you were the Finance Director of an agency that we had just carried out a contract compliance audit on. Not only had we taken up a fair bit of your time, but we had also found the largest amount of money that your agency had ever been asked to repay to a brand. Yes, the amount even raised our eyebrows, which is quite an achievement!

How would you be feeling at this point in time? Bruised? Battered? Sore? If you were thinking that, you are not alone. What many people assume is that when we go into an agency we go in with a big stick and beat up anyone we find in our path. In fact, the biggest hurdle for brands using our services is the worry that their relationships, agency side, are going to be compromised.

I received today – unprompted – an email from the FD… thanking our team for its industry insight, commercial nous, sensitivity and fairness when doing the audit.

In fact, the truth is very different. To prove it, I received today – unprompted – an email from the FD of this very agency, thanking our team for its industry insight, commercial nous, sensitivity and fairness when doing the audit. Remember this is an FD with a very large hole now in his accounts owing to the not insubstantial amount of cash his agency will be paying back to our mutual client. Whilst you may find this behaviour surprising, if you look at the testimonials on our website you will notice that we have just as much positive feedback from agencies as we do from brands.

It is very tempting, and also easy, to believe that we must take up an adversarial stance when we go in to audit. Actually, all we want to do is to help both parties (and often both parties need help) tighten up their processes and systems so that financial transparency is available to all.

Not only is it about financial transparency, but also it’s about protecting the reputations of the people working on the brand.

Not only is it about financial transparency, but also it’s about protecting the reputations of the people working on the brand. At the end of the day it is neither helpful for the agency nor the brand for reconciliation balances to be opaque, or to have instances where money is leaking out unnecessarily.

After one audit in which we identified an inefficient briefing process, the brand team went on a training course to tighten up how they briefed their agencies. When we audited the agency a year later, the account manager told us that this training had made a huge difference to the quality of briefs they were now receiving. This was a major result for the agency as it had lowered significantly the amount of hours it was burning from reworking creative due to poor initial briefs. Which just goes to show that we try to be as constructive as possible to help both the agency and brand work better together in the future. After all, it’s in everyone’s interests to do so and is the very embodiment of, well, financial progression…

Of course, there are times when we do have to break a few eggs to make an omelette. Finding out that your agency owes you a significant amount of money does test a relationship somewhat. That said, because of the way we approach our work, we normally find that relationships post our involvement are strengthened. We like to think of it as a ‘new dawn’. As the FD of the agency we have just audited wrote in his email, ‘I hope our paths cross again in the future’.

Those are not the words of a man who has just been left bleeding after 12 rounds in the ring…

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