Client Agency Relationships Part 2: The Art of the Relationship

Once a deal has been struck (see Client Agency Relationships: the Art of the Deal) a client and an agency enter a relationship. This relationship can be as partners or a vendor relationship or even consultant relationship. Regardless of what that relationship ends up being there are several things that need to take place for it to be healthy.

First and foremost, the baseline or cost of entry in a relationship: an agency needs to deliver work on time, on target, and on budget, with zero tolerance for errors.

This is a fundamental truth. I attended a presentation in the 90’s given by the JWT worldwide Creative Director who said it best, “I have seen most client agency relationships fall apart because of day to day agency mistakes, not failure on the big thinking. The client starts thinking if the agency cannot manage the details how I can trust them to manage the big stuff. And it all starts falling apart.”

Secondly, an agency should be passionately committed to immerse themselves in the clients’ businesses—to come to the table each day as a fully engaged business partner, rather than as a vendor. It shows a commitment to true business results.

Beyond those two basic, but important thoughts, let’s say the following outlines some of the basics a client should expect from an agency. The agency should:

  • Be a proactive business partner, operating as an extension of the clients’ marketing department and functioning as a part of the overall business team.
  • Maintain an account management team to service the needs, the thinking and tactical needs, of the clients business.
  • Provide ongoing strategic thinking, to better understand, communicate with, and motivate the clients’ target audience to take action (drive results).
  • Leverage the budget through innovative planning, efficient buying, merchandising, added value, event marketing and sponsorships.
  • Create and produce highly effective, traffic building, multi-level campaigns that will successfully enhance and unify the client’s brand image.

On the other side of the relationship, there are certain things an agency would like from the client. The following outlines 6 (which may not be all-inclusive but probably hit the key things):

  1. Communicate.

An agency is only as good as the information it gets. Tell us the good, the bad and the truth. No matter how much experience we have, guessing is guessing, and we will not always be correct when we guess.

  1. Be a partner.

You are the Client. And ultimately your word is the final word (because it is your money). But agencies do impossible things for Clients who treat them like true partners. We’ll debate, we’ll argue, we’ll be grumpy with each other every once in awhile, but we all have the same goal in mind – business success. And you hired us to do something you didn’t believe you could do. So treat us like a partner.

  1. Be fair.

Maybe this should have been “be open minded” but suffice it to say we are not evil and we don’t purposely have bad intentions. When we do something we usually have a good reason on why we did it (and it would be nice for you to stop and listen to it). And we make mistakes on occasion. Not on purpose but because they sometimes happen. Just be fair.

  1. Be tough.

If it is not right in your eyes, then it is not right until we have convinced you it is (or you have convinced us otherwise). Sure. You hired us to be the experts in what we do, but you are an expert in what you do. Don’t compromise. Don’t settle for “good” because good is the largest enemy of “great.” Be a tough grader. This is business. And we are all about doing whatever is best to drive the best results.

  1. Have fun.

Laugh a little. Okay. Laugh a lot. It is marketing for Pete’s sake.

Conclusion: Some Semblance of Partnership.

While insuring expectations are communicated and aligned and delivering upon the details are critical, ultimately the most successful relationships have some semblance of a partnership. And partnership is truly a multi-faceted concept. Some collaboration helps (but agencies always need to remember they get hired because the client cannot do something themselves). A goal should be to attain a seamless extension of the marketing department at minimum, the client company at its best – joined by common business objectives and fueled by shared values.

It is quite possible this quote from Booker Washington summarizes a healthy client agency relationship the best:

“… be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

Note: To download a PDF of parts one and two of Client Agency Relationships, visit my Thoughts On Business page or click here.

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Written by Bruce