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Five key take-aways from the 2023 What Clients Think Report

The 9th annual What Clients Think report by Up to the Light was launched recently in a DBA webinar. Based on 650 in-depth client interviews, the report gives you a unique view into client/agency relationships. 

Adam Fennelow, Head of Services, DBA

The report is a valuable tool for agencies in planning new business approaches and assessing their client services and relationships. It enables an agency to put themselves in their clients’ shoes and predict reactions and objections before they are raised, and for clients it enables them to benchmark the issues they face, their approach to design and the relationship they have with their agencies.

The report is divided into three sections:

  • Client world: looking at wider client pressures and concerns, which impact the way in which they operate.
  • Winning clients: looking at agency new business activity and pitching.
  • Retaining and growing clients: covering client service and development issues.

Here are my top 5 take-outs from the report and launch event:

1. The rise of data & technology

43% of marketing directors believe that data and analytics is an area they need to improve on – while at the same time they say that the combination of creativity and technical skills is hard to find. How do agencies get to grips with integrating the use, management, and if necessary the display of data and analytics in their work, or with helping clients understand what information is useful while they are drowning in a sea of data?

2. The perceived lack of commercial awareness in agencies

The skills combination of creativity and commercial awareness is the most sought after and rarest agency combination. Agencies that understand the commercialises of the client business are able to justify creative concepts and smooth internal anxieties. At the same time 75% of clients admit to finding design effectiveness difficult to quantify. There is a huge opportunity for astute agencies to lead the conversation around effectiveness to prove their commercial acumen.

3. Clients are risk averse

82% of clients describe themselves as risk averse. They understand the need for brand differentiation and innovation but there needs to be a strong business case. Agencies who call on clients to ‘be brave’ without addressing the elements of risk head-on will end up being ignored. Build the business case along side the creative case.

4. One Direction - not the band, a single creative route

63% of clients prefer to be presented with just one creative route rather than the option of three. If the agency is to be seen as the expert then should they be advising on the single solution rather than pushing the decision onto the client? The caveat here comes in the fact that the remaining 37% strongly favour having a choice. Report author and DBA Expert, Jonathan Kirk shares a few thoughts on this in the video snippet below.

5. Building existing client relationships

40% of clients are not fully aware of the full skill set of their incumbent agency. Perhaps because the average time that clients last saw a credentials presentation from their existing agency is 2.5 years. Concerns about skills gaps are an opportunity to talk to clients about their needs. Ask questions about projects that are going to other agencies – why were you not considered?

Further resources

Download the Report – You can download your copy of Up to the Light’s What Client Think Report here


The Report’s author Jonathan Kirk also joined us for our April Members’ Forum to discuss how agency/client relationships are evolving, delving further into these points. Here’s a summary of the conversation.


Watch a recording of the Report launch – DBA members have exclusive access to webinar recordings and can catch up on the What Clients Think Report Launch webinar here


Gain further insights – Jonathan Kirk delivers training on this topic in a workshop called World Class Client Servicing. Find out more by emailing


Get in touch – if you are a DBA member who would like to talk through issues you are facing, or if you are interested in becoming a member, you can schedule time in my diary here.

The ‘What Clients Think’ Report is published by Up to the Light in association with the DBA. You can find out more about Up to the Light’s founder and DBA Expert, Jonathan Kirk here


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