What do clients really think? A 2LK observation.

The DBA (Design Business Association) has published its ninth annual ‘What Clients Think’ report, based on 650 detailed interviews. 2LK Head of Creative, Nick Glazier, gives his observations on the report and explores the implications for creative agencies.

Written by Nick Glazier.


The DBA investigation delivered some surprises which we’ll discuss later. On the flip side, some of its other findings seem obvious:

The surprises.

“63% of clients prefer to be presented with just one creative route option rather than three.”

If we take this finding at face value, the approach could change the whole premise of pitch documents – think of the time and creative energy saved, not to mention the money. However, only offering one creative option would hugely heighten the possibility of not hitting the mark first time – leading to timely and costly revisions, and (worse still) loss of client confidence.

For the ‘one option pitch’ to be widely adopted, briefs would have to be on point and communication (and collaboration) between client and agency highly effective.

That’s not all, there’s a further complication later in the report which states “over two thirds of clients say their pitch brief isn’t as prescriptive as it seems”, generating a giant grey area and making the ‘one idea’ approach even more of a minefield.

This is a classic case for knowing your client – some like to have a selection of creative routes to give context and variation, especially if the options are executional.

“75% of clients admit to finding design effectiveness difficult to quantify.”

There are many facets to this fact. Sure, some agencies add fuel to this fire, but in many cases it’s the opposite. Agencies are continually trying to find cost savings and more efficient ways to deliver and evaluate ROI. Quite rightly, clients hold us accountable and always push for a sharp commercial approach. We often respond with innovative solutions to deliver on brief and budget. 

The fact 94% of clients believe great creativity has the power to move a brand should surely mean more than 75% of clients believe it’s hard to quantify.

ROI is a two-way street. Of course, the agency has responsibility for justifying marketing spend with them but it’s also the client’s job to justify that ROI of creativity upwards within their organizations.

“61% of clients believe their agency could understand more about their business.”

As marketers, we’re aware one of the fundamentals of effective marketing is ‘know your audience’ so why do this large proportion of clients feel their agency doesn’t fully understand them?

The more understanding, the better the outcome. The challenge comes when agencies are required to do this rapidly, such as in a pitch scenario, where you do not have a long standing relationship to draw on. Truly understanding the brand, audience, and cultural playspace of a business takes time and, certainly at the beginning of the relationship, we tend to know just enough to respond creatively. True understanding comes as collaboration matures.

Another thing to consider is the agency space is crowded with both ‘generalist’ and vertical specialists and it’s important for the client to know who they’re working with. Vertical specialists will have deep industry knowledge in spades, however, a ‘horizontal’ specialist will have expertise in a different form, be it social media, SEO, internal comms etc.

Only 12% of clients described their creative agency as the “best” partner/supplier they work with and just 14% said their agency “regularly exceeds their expectations.” 

These two statistics together pack quite a punch in the proverbial agency’s guts. Maybe we just need to do better…Or do we?

The statement stokes the question of responsibility and respect for our collective places in the business partnership ecosystem. For us, it’s about a transparent, honest long-term partnership and neither agency nor the client has all the answers. If expectations are out of whack or abused you end up with a disappointed client and a deflated agency.

Perhaps the key is not the agency doing better, but the onus is on both parties to hone their alignment to fully realize the true potential of their partnership.

Key report takeaways.


While the DBA report offers invaluable insights which are not to be sniffed at, neither client or agency exist in isolation. We need to take into account that the report solely feeds back on what the agency could improve on. However, the best partnerships are the one where client and agency work together for the mutual aim of elevating a brand, telling a story and making a meaningful audience connection.

Let’s talk.

If you’d like to discuss a future brand experience project, contact us to make the most of moments that matter.

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