Advice for Creating a Beautiful Agency-Client Relationship

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros and Patricia Odell

relationships-bond-CRM-hands-people-300Any romance expert will tell you that the key to a good relationship is communication. The same holds true for successful agency/client pairings. We asked agency leaders from several of our B2B and PROMO Top Shops what clients could do to keep the spark alive.

Pulse220 CEO Craig Erlich says he’d love it if clients wouldn’t withhold information from their agencies. “I wish they’d be more transparent and collaborative. That is a powerful thing to have in a relationship.”

The clients that want to work in partnership with their agency create the best relationships, agrees Yvonne Tocquigny, chief creative and strategy officer, Archer Malmo Austin. Unfortunately, many bid out projects to multiple shops and treat their agencies like a vendor.

“CMOs are stretched. You see more and more companies with in-house marketing groups that have spotty expertise trying to augment their [capabilities] for specific projects,” she adds. “That makes it hard for an agency to get a strong grasp of their overall strategic approach.”

Trust is essential, Tocquigny says. “If clients can’t trust their agency, they should fire them. A relationship built on trust and respect is the best tool there is.”

You need to have open and honest conversations with clients, echoes Mike Neumier, principal of Arketi.

“Everyone needs to know what needs to happen when,” he says. “Of course, some clients enjoy being on a perpetual deadline. It’s the conundrum of hurry up and wait—which isn’t always the client’s fault, because midway through the process a wrench can get thrown in the works.”

“Our favorite clients are the ones who are passionate about their product and love marketing,” notes Paula Williams, president, ABCI. “They’re the ones who are willing to spend time working with us on campaigns and make sure things are up to speed.”

“ I wish clients would refrain from building barriers to their own success—they need to help us be a catalyst for change and drive new ideas,” adds John Simpson, CEO of One North. “We talk to our clients about what’s probable, possible and impossible. If we’re doing our job correctly, we’re between possible and impossible—but that’s difficult if the client will only think about what’s probable.”

All agencies have a wish list, secret or not, that they prefer clients did, or didn’t do.

Arc president Bob Raidt worked at an agency for six years in Asia, three in Tokyo. He was amazed by the clients’ genuine interest in what agencies and brands should look like in 20 years.

“They take a long view and in this environment now that’s pretty refreshing,” he says. “The future gets the short shrift. I’d love to see clients commit to making it a priority to carve out time to sit down and consider macro/micro economics and cultural and political trends that are forces that are shaping the future. If we have a better understanding of that we can take leaps of imagination to position ourselves in the future. The decisions that are made today for the future give us a much better chance of being successful in the future.”

Fees, of course, are on the radar. Jones says it would be interesting as an industry to look at different ways to share in the success of clients’ brands.

“We’re still in the model where the client is paying us for every hour of work,” says Nick Jones, executive vice president, retail practice and innovation lead at Arc. “We may have come up with a multi-million dollar idea and clients should be looking for and paying for the value of those ideas and not just the time that went into it. We are confident enough in our abilities to help clients be extraordinarily successful and we own it to ourselves to be more closely tied to that success.”

Agencies would like to see clients share data more rigorously, like sales information and consumer behavioral data to get a more complete view of the business. That would sharpen the focus on strategic marketing decisions from concept to execution.

“They get concerned about confidentially,” Raidt says. “In the spirit of collaboration, let us have access to the same information to have more informed conversations. Help us to be trusted strategic advisers that lead to more effective creative work. We’re looking for more shoulder to should relationships with clients than across the table transactional clients. We want to be part of that journey and their relationship with the agency will only get better and lead to better results.”

Pivot Point co-principal Amie Stanley agrees. “Throughout my career clients that treat you as a partner versus a vendor is when the best quality work is delivered. Then agencies can get a deep understanding of and become entrenched in their business.”

Clients can also have a tendency to sometimes be too controlling. They dictate how the team should be structured, who will work on the business and other details.

“Clients should hold the agency accountable for achieving goals and results with more flexibility in structure and how we deploy talent on the projects were given,” Raidt says.

“We ask clients to be brave,” Jones adds. “Playing it safe might be a good way to keep a job but we’re living in a time where brands have to make those massive impacts on peoples lives. Company’s and brands need to be more frightened of not changing than changing. We like our clients to push us and want to see creative ideas that make them nervous.”

Many clients are still hold agencies accountable to an older metrics model. “It’s hard to work with clients when they have that muscle memory of how they used to work with agencies,” says Marty Smyth, vice president, strategic marketing, MRM//McCann.

But over the years, there has been a shift towards results-based compensation, notes Lori Field, president, west region of MRM//McCann. “Many clients look at short term gains but we need to think about the big picture, and work on incentive models based on that.”

More From Our B2B and PROMO Top Shop Agencies:

Hiring Trends: Marketing Agencies Want Talent Focused on the Big Picture

Agency Special Report: The Only Constant in 2016 Will Be Change

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