The holiday season officially upon us, so it’s natural for thoughts to turn to friends and family – the relationships that bring meaning to our lives. With the new year just around the corner, now is also a good time to assess another important relationship: the one between agencies and their clients.
Like every other relationship, the bond between clients and their marketing partners is a two-way street. The outcome is only going to be mutually beneficial and long-lasting if each party is mindful and considerate of the other’s needs.
In the spirit of the season, here’s an easy acronym – CHEER – to help you focus on the core attributes of a healthy client-agency relationship.
Productive partnerships thrive on effective communication. Elements of a positive client-agency dialog include:
- Frequency – It’s simple, really: the more contact between client and agency, the more seamless the working relationship. Make sure you’ve allocated enough time in your schedule – and hours in the budget – to keep everyone up to speed and in the know.
- Clarity – Good communicators don’t take things for granted. They simplify complex information to be sure it’s easily understood and ask confirming questions to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
- Accountability – Depending on the nature of the relationship, you could have anywhere from a small handful to dozens of people involved on both the client and agency sides of the relationship. While free-flowing interaction across all these parties can have lots of benefits like enhanced creativity, funneling critical information between one point person on each side of the relationship can help ensure the ball doesn’t get dropped.
Let’s face it: things aren’t always going to go perfectly. How each party reacts when things go off track will go a long way in defining the success of your partnership. A strong relationship is a safe relationship where partners can share anything – wants, needs, disappointments – without fear of retribution.
In many interpersonal relationships this kind of trust is earned over an extended period, but client-agency partnerships don’t have that luxury. Starting the relationship with a sincere belief that the other entity has their best interest at heart is the easy part; sustaining it for months or years requires consistent, honest dialog in good times and bad. But armed with this hard-earned confidence, clients and agencies can work together to address challenges instead of placing blame.
Having a shared set of goals – and a mutual understanding of everything from timelines to how billing will be handled – is crucial for avoiding the kind of misunderstandings that often sour client-agency partnerships.
Clients should expect a meticulous onboarding process to establish objectives – and the metrics for determining success – along with the “rules of engagement” for how things will work day to day. Agencies in turn should expect complete candor from clients up front, from what they hope to achieve to guaranteed access to the people, background information, performance data and other resources needed to create, sustain and measure success.
This shouldn’t be a one-time exercise, however. Clients and agencies should have a formal review at least once a year, like the Agency Report Card LGA conducts annually, to see what’s working and what needs to be improved.
Clients that view their agencies as vendors are likely to churn through partners every few years. This kind of relationship sets up a win-lose dynamic that leads the agency and its people to feel resentment, lack of trust and, ultimately, low enthusiasm for the client that produces substandard work.
The same can be said of agencies that believe clients are lucky to have the opportunity work with such a brilliant team – at some point either the client will tire of being disrespected or overcharged, or the agency will set its sights on another account they believe will be more rewarding.
A win-win partnership allows the client to achieve its business objectives through the help of its agency, which in turn gets to be fairly compensated while enjoying the pride that comes from helping their client succeed. Like a marriage or any other close relationship, it requires understanding one another’s needs and occasionally sacrificing your own ambitions so that your “win” doesn’t come at the expense of your partner.
This one should go without saying, but a lack of respect is often one of the first signs of a fractured partnership. From clients who feel their professional knowledge isn’t valued to agencies who gripe that clients never give them enough time or resources to do a good job, the snowball effect can lead to the kind of “us vs. them” mentality that erodes trust and kills creativity.
As in most relationships, it often comes back to communication. At the first sign of feeling disrespected, either party should feel empowered to voice their concern while the other listens empathetically. Whatever the issue, put yourself in your partner’s shoes – how would you feel if your client or agency did that to you? Validate those feelings, apologize for the unintended slight, then work together to find mutually agreeable solutions to keep it from happening again.
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When you consider your agency partner relationship, are there ways it could be more “CHEERful?”