Is 'agency of record' an outdated term to describe the client-firm relationship?

The dawn of the digital era has forever changed the PR landscape, not only giving rise to a new breed of firms, but also elevating the PR agency's role.

Yes

Rodger Roeser, Owner and president, The Eisen Agency
Former GM of VMS Ohio, PR director of the #88 NASCAR team, and TV/radio anchor

When I was a journalist, in particular a radio newscaster, the acronym AOR stood for "album oriented rock" - a music format once popular and still loved. However, when I turned to the dark side and became a PR practitioner, I discovered AOR to mean something altogether different and highly coveted by the firm - "agency of record" - at once popular and definitely unloved.

Why? The concept of an AOR is an outdated practice designed to strong-arm the client into paying for a firm that might not have the specific resources needed by that client. It also locked them into a contract requiring them to continue paying even if performance is poor. Bad for the client; bad for the agency.

A client should work with you because they love the work, the performance, and the proactivity - not because they "have to." A good firm will earn its client's business each and every day. That said, no agency has every conceivable resource in- house to serve the diverse needs of every single client. As such, hiring outside consultants is the norm - but passing them off as agency personnel is dishonest.

In this day and age, locking clients into a contract is poor business practice. The agencies that consistently serve the diverse needs of their clientele to their benefit will be the ones that maintain long client relationships. Good, honest, extraordinary work, not contracts, is the ultimate business-building tool. If someone is staying with your firm because they "must," the relationship is broken and, as soon as they are able, they will replace you.

Instead of an AOR model, clients and agencies should embrace a pragmatic growth strategy based on best practices with a realistic timeline to achieve agreed-upon objectives, such as the amount of time it will take to complete a specific project. Then, in quarterly increments, those successes should be reviewed and updated. This keeps both the agency's and the client's eyeballs on the prize and working toward a collective growth and success model. Options are always a good thing. If you love someone, set them free.


No

Bill Fleishman, President, Cone
Over his 20-year career, he has worked with clients including Yoplait, Jiffy Lube, and Alpo

The dawn of the digital era has forever changed the PR landscape, not only giving rise to a new breed of firms, but also elevating the PR agency's role. Yet, while much has changed, the relevance of and desire for the agency of record (AOR) relationship remains steadfast.

While some predict a demise of the AOR in favor of project-based work, the lion's share of our clients are in favor of the AOR relationship.

The AOR partnership is a long-term investment built on shared trust, ongoing communication, and an enduring commitment to achieving business goals. "Here today, compete-for-our-business-again tomorrow" relationships drain agency resources, stifle creativity, and impede the mutual trust and commitment needed to produce the highest-quality strategic marketing programs.

Building a brand takes time, consistency, and strong knowledge of a product or service, an industry, and client culture - something that can't be achieved with a one-off project approach. The AOR results in a highly knowledgeable agency partner that can drive a client's strategic vision and brand strategy, while still fostering a collaborative and creative environment, consistent messaging, and winning work.

The AOR promotes economic efficiencies. There is a learning curve whenever a firm is brought on to a piece of new business. A financial investment in an agency to absorb and understand a client's brand, objectives, and organization is unavoidable. The AOR model eliminates continuous "start-up" costs.

In addition, many clients don't want to manage and coordinate disparate firms. Rather, brand managers battling limited internal resources look to their AOR as an extension of their brand marketing team. The AOR is charged with overseeing all firms to ensure consistency across all marketing elements and helping move the program forward within the client's organization.

Today, the most successful PR initiatives not only complement all elements of the marketing mix; they drive them.

This new marketing paradigm makes the AOR model more relevant than ever.


PRWeek's View
The AOR relationship is not going away any time soon. As long as there are firms large enough to provide a full range of services for ever-demanding clients, the term "agency of record" will stay in use in the PR industry.

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