It’s time to grow up and act, the days of giving digital a pass are over, said P&G’s Marc Pritchard urging agencies and marketers to follow P&G demand for universal adherence to industry-standard viewability metrics, fraud protection and third-party verification.

Considering this post-truth world, Suki Thompson was invited to this year’s Guardian Media Change Summit to chair a panel debate on rebuilding client/agency relationships.

Suki gathered the David and Goliath’s of the media industry, a client, and an entrepreneur: “media Goliath” Nick Baughan, CEO, Maxus UK, who has grown billings by £140million and created 65 jobs in just one year; “media David”, Jenny Biggam, CEO of leading independent media agency The 7 Stars – recently awarded Media Agency of the Year; Chief Marketing Officer, Gary Bramall, of British technology platform My Taxi, matching taxi drivers and passengers through a mobile phone application; and serial – entrepreneur Carl Erik Kjærsgaard, CEO & co-founder of AI media analytics company, Blackwood Seven A/S.

Recapping debate insights, Suki writes…

At last year’s conference, we talked about changing client and agency models and the need to re-establish trust. It felt a little like ground hog day, but, with the sense we have edged closer to the edge of the cliff.

The last 12 months have been challenging and exciting and I believe that with real challenges such as transparency, tech development, changing customer needs, comes great opportunity for our customers, our people and our shareholders. The question of trust is greater than ever before.

These are the insights from my great panellists Nick, Jenny, Gary and Carl-Erik with my huge thanks for their contribution to the on-going debate.

The way forward

There is an issue, but the genesis lies in a knowledge asymmetry between agencies and clients. Agencies continue to deliver more and more value, but, as an industry we are poor in communicating how. Smart agencies need to be on the front foot and address this. Clients, on the other hand, have underinvested on in-house media resources for considerable time. Both parties need to level up expert conversations, and face complexity with complete transparency.

In addition, agencies need to work closer in partnership with marketers. Focus on being more than just a conduit and more on the customer journey, the service that we offer. We need to deliver strategic advice, drive value and invest in better technologies.

The way forward is through completely transparent relationships. If agencies act as intermediaries they should do so in the best interest of their client. Agencies need to stop feeling threatened, stop being afraid of transparency, and give clients the neutral, honest advice that they’re paying for.

The situation falls between a spectrum of greed and negligence. Marketers need to question everything. In some ways, they are moving away from being artists to becoming data scientists, and that demands different skillsets, including stronger ROI management. The bottom line is that we need better marketers and the industry needs to step up, but this is simply half of the equation. The other half is more transparent, honest advertisers, and a commitment to no more black art or smoking mirrors.

Relationships need to open up with more contact between the media agencies and media owners. We need to introduce measurement tools that prove effectiveness, just like every other part of the marketing operation. A new breed of CMOs, from different backgrounds, with increased focus on optimisation are changing the landscape, looking for more effective tech enabled solutions.

What will be the impact of AI?
Real-time data availability will drastically reduce the time-line for creating and executing a media plan, “9 months of work can be done in 9 seconds”, commented Carl-Erik.

Optimisation of cost models, where transparency is achievable through algorithms rather than intermediaries. These models, now managed by most advertising agencies, are and should move into full automation; the technology is enabling this now.

Agencies will focus more on driving value through strategic insights and advice rather than transactional gains: “We still need people, and agencies and clients still want to talk to humans, that’s not going to change […] That’s where the brilliance of our industry really comes through” said Jenny.

The panel agreed: people will continue be at the forefront of partnership. The intimacy of an agency-client relationship will not wither, we all simply need to adjust to technology playing a bigger role than it has done historically.

On rebuilding client/agency trust

Agencies need meaningful, forefront deep conversations with their clients and focus on rebuilding trust.

Clients need to take charge of past complacency and move new deals forward.

Both sides need to focus on people, authenticity and values, to build meaningful relationships based on mutual trust.