By IRENE CHAPPLE

Like a beautiful marriage, it starts with fluttering eyelashes, lasts forever and is untroubled by discontent.

That, according to Peter Scutts, managing director of Young & Rubicam, is how advertising agencies dream of their client relationships.

"Agencies want a relationship [like] meeting an attractive young lady. You meet, fall in love, be happy and get married."

Unfortunately, clients aren't quite so starry-eyed. Says Scutts: "Clients want a prostitute who will do something. The client will pay them as little as possible and then get the hell out of there."

The rapid-fire Australian ex-pat, who demolishes conversation topics almost as fast as the short black he is drinking, likes to think he has an objective view of the industry.

He used to be on the client side, after all, as marketing director at Sky TV before becoming New Zealand Rugby chief executive. He joined Young & Rubicam five years ago.

The agency was one of four invited to participate in the Westfield pitch. They all spent around $25,000 preparing a presentation and were then left waiting for seven months for an answer. Last month the account went to an agency that was not involved in the original process.

The debacle reinvigorated industry debate about whether agencies should be reimbursed for costs involved in pitching, as they are in some countries.

"Would a lawyer or accountant be treated like that?" asks Scutts. "If you got 30 directors in New Zealand and asked them to rank in credibility their auditors, lawyers and advertising people we'd rank at the bottom of the value-for-money scale every time.

"This industry needs to figure out how to gain credibility. We have to find a way to convince our clients - at managing director and chief financial officer level - that we are worthwhile."

Scutts believes the best way to change the mindset is for agencies to become experts in consumer behaviour, providing valuable pre-campaign information for clients.

"The industry is stuck in a time warp," says Scutts. "Agencies sit back and react to briefs when they should be proactively gaining insights into consumer behaviour.

"We have to be prepared to add significant value and to do that we need a deep understanding of consumers."

DDB managing director and Communication Agencies Association president Martin O'Halloran agrees, although he believes many agencies are already moving that way.

Agencies, he says, have to become an extension of the client's marketing department. They need to consider themselves "communication" agencies that offer a multitude of services rather than just advertising.

In an association survey this year, chief executives said they valued their agencies but wanted more proof of return on investment. In response, the association is organising a central database of campaigns that agencies can use as a consumer research base.

O'Halloran says the database will be a collection of case studies and media reports on campaigns that have been particularly successful, which will be useful for agencies working on campaigns with a similar audience. It should be available by early next year.

Eventually, says O'Halloran, the association wants to produce a regular book featuring the details behind Effie Award winning campaigns - as is done in overseas markets.

However, O'Halloran reckons the agencies will gain more respect from clients if they just learn to say no.

"Sometimes agencies are so desperate for business that they forget the standards they set for themselves. They have to learn not to give everything away, not to beg, borrow and steal.

"If they are more professional they will be treated more professionally."