Most of us have experienced both the good and bad of client-agency relationships – a business relationship unlike any other. On the low end, they can be unproductive partnerships fraught with stress, that typically yield poor marketing. On the high end, they can be trust-filled, long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships that yield great marketing, and if you’re lucky, life-long friendships. Here are 3 things I think are critical in creating the strongest type of client-agency relationships:
1. Good fit based on a foundation of similar values
As a client, it’s critical to know what you want before you choose an agency. Are you looking for an award-winning creative shop, a strategy to fix a business problem, media planning and execution, a full-service agency, or something different? The clearer you are about your needs at the onset, the easier it will be to weed out agencies that aren’t a good fit. What matters to you? What do you value? If you have a serious business problem, you need a strong strategic planning department. If you’re trying to break out of traditional media, you’ll want a strong digital or new media department. If you’re trying to put your name on the map, you may look at ‘hot agencies of the year.’ Make sure agencies are clear about what they are really best at vs. saying, “we can do it all.” In addition, make sure the team an agency showcases in their review is the one you’ll be working with.
2. Communication and trust
Once you’ve hired an agency, communication and trust on both sides is critical to success. Both parties need to be held to their word – say what they are going to do and follow through. When something that is promised doesn’t happen, and there’s no communication about it, trust breaks down. Both parties need to stay open minded and be fair. Good agencies know that the unexpected can happen on the client side – like senior executives changing their minds, or a new VP of Marketing arriving with differing opinions. When the agency is kept in the dark on client side changes, the agency inevitably spins on unnecessary work (not fair). Frequent contact and weekly status meetings keep expectations in check and help mitigate issues. If work is put in the marketplace and isn’t working, don’t blame either side – figure out together what the learnings are and how to move forward. With all the data available today it’s quite easy to see which creative pieces are working for which audiences, or which target segments are performing the best.
3. Understand there is a process
Great work is based on a sound marketing and advertising strategy, consumer research and feedback, business goals and objectives being met, and most importantly, the agency having the time to do great work. Creative work is just that — creative. In fact, all agency work has an element of creativity – from media planning to production. The longer a client can give an agency to do the work, the better results will be (we’re talking 2 months vs. 2 weeks). It takes time to find a good animation company or music house, it takes time to evaluate the right media mix, and it takes time to solve a business problem that has been plaguing a company for years.
These 3 elements are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building solid client-agency relationships. The most important thing to remember is respect each other – a mindset that should apply to all business relationships.
Guest blogger Cheryl Ricketts is an award-winning agency and client side global marketing leader who builds brands for all types of companies, from start-ups to Fortune 500 businesses like Microsoft and Kraft. She spent 20 years at advertising agencies on 30+ brands, and has 10 years’ experience on the client side. We have invited Cheryl to lend her perspective on something we all wish went a little bit smoother–client-agency relationships.