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Comms Council Supports Voxcomm Position On Extended Payment Terms

The Commercial Communications Council (Comms Council) today expresses support for a renewed call for caution amongst clients looking to impose extended payment terms on agencies. VoxComm, the global voice for communications agencies, is urging agencies and clients to be aware of the damaging consequences of extended payment terms. Many agencies, being people businesses, do not have the financial resources to fund months of payroll. Simultaneously, extended payment behaviour harms the agency-client relationship and negatively impacts brand reputations.

Simon Lendrum, CEO of the Comms Council, says “the call from Voxcomm is a timely reminder of the need for client-agency relationships to be respectful and built on mutual benefit. As interest rates rise, the consequences of delayed payments are significant for agencies trying to manage cash flow and pay their own staff and suppliers in a timely manner.”

Some marketers have abused their power to impose egregious extended payment terms on agencies, which agencies can fund only by increased borrowing.

Borrowing is expensive and harmful to the long-term sustainability of agency businesses as it drives higher costs and risk profiles. The impact restricts agencies’ abilities to pay their people, to build or acquire new capabilities, to invest in research, and to retain and attract the best talent. Weakened agencies are detrimental to their clients’ best interests. Agencies accepting these sorts of demands hurt all agencies while likely driving their own business into the ground.

Marketers need to understand the commercial consequences of these practices, and agencies need to push back on clients’ insistence on longer payment terms. We encourage agencies to keep a record of the date when work begins and the date when payment is made for that work, and also inform the clients about it. This process should start before sending an invoice and before the payment term begins.

Best practice payment terms are 30 days. However, some marketers request 90 days and, in a few cases, even 120 days. In one extreme example, Keurig Dr Pepper asked for 360-day payment terms to participate in a U.S. PR agency pitch, following which VoxComm intervened.

The industry is often constrained to accept these damaging payment terms. It’s vital that marketers fully understand the potentially harmful consequences that may follow.

Corporations requesting longer payment terms are forcing agencies to cover several months of costs since they cannot pass these delays on to their employees. Clients asking for extended payment terms are asking agencies to act as banks and to provide supplementary interest-free loans, which harm the industry's best interests. Supply Chain Financing from clients is expensive and unreliable and is not an acceptable approach.

Companies seeking to implement harsh financial conditions on agencies should be aware of legislation such as the EU directive stipulating that businesses must pay their invoices within 60 days unless they expressly agree otherwise and provided it is not grossly unfair. In Aotearoa, the Business Payment Practices Bill has been before Select Committee. While the Bill itself seems to be suffering from political differences, the conditions for its introduction recognise that too many small businesses in New Zealand, agencies included, have punitive payment terms and conditions put upon them.

“Clients should not be waiting for legislation to behave reasonably. Commitment to CSR is essential for brands to build a positive reputation and attract socially responsible consumers. Brands should view fair payment practices for suppliers, including communications agencies, as part of their ESG considerations and ensure these practices are established within their firms”, added Tamara Daltroff, VoxComm’s President.

In light of increasing incidents of irresponsible behaviour from clients, VoxComm wants to warn marketers of the potentially harmful consequences to their agency partners and the relationships that they have built. Not only is this approach damaging to agency creativity and effectiveness but also detrimental to businesses' reputations when they are in danger of breaching laws and regulations around the world. We would like to call on clients to be aware of the financial pressure they might unwittingly be putting on their agencies and to seek better terms for payment.