The Client and Agency Relationship

4 Things Each Can Do To Build It

The Client and Agency relationship is typically an evolving, and at times, interesting dynamic in its mix of corporate political formality and genuine human interaction. At its best the relationship is a true partnership built on mutual respect. At its worst it is frustrating and even toxic.

Having worked from both the client and agency perspective, and having managed both wonderful and challenging agencies and clients alike, here is my short list of advice on how to develop a true partnership with your agency/client partners.

To The Agencies

Do What Is Right, Not Necessarily What Is Asked

  • Detailed and flawless execution is the cost of entry. It is easy to find an agency that follows orders, but the agency who has a point of view and who isn’t afraid to challenge directions that don’t make sense is the one I want to work with. Just make sure you have a strong rationale backing your point of view. I may not always agree, but I will respect and value you for your opinion.

I Want To Speak To The People Who Are Actually Doing The Work

  • Nothing makes me want to staple my head to the table more than when an agency doesn’t include their creative staff in a meeting because of some absurd notion that they need protection from the criticism or differing points of view involved in strategic dialogue. If your only role is to record my feedback and water it down so that it is more easily digested by the people who are really doing the thinking then you are as useful as the Segway. It is imperative that the client speak directly to the people whose thought went into whatever it is that is being discussed, not only to get their point of view per point 1 above, but to also work through any challenges together.

Leave Your Puns At The Office

  • Another thing that I have no tolerance for is a glossy presentation laced with pithy copy and clever puns but completely lacking in strategic thought. Window dressing is easily seen through and makes me feel like you are trying to slip something by me. I don’t want used car salesmen, I want strategic marketers.

Take Initiative

  • If there is a bigger need than what I am specifically asking you to do then solve for it. If you do a good job you will get more business than what was originally in the offering. I once worked with a PR agency that was asked to develop a tactical outreach plan. Instead of giving me that plan they provided a well thought out PR strategy, and in doing so they got 3X the budget to execute than what was originally allocated for PR.

To The Clients

Don’t Be An A-Hole

  • This is pretty straight forward, and you assume it would be obvious, harkening back to the golden rule circa kindergarten, yet there are horror stories of hellish clients circling around almost every agency. Look, I am sorry if you weren’t allowed to eat chocolate as a kid and had to take an ugly date to the prom, but that doesn’t mean you have the right, now that you are in somewhat of a position of authority, to exorcise those demons by treating your agency partners like crap. There is a reason why you get a new account lead every six months, it’s because your agency hates you and spends the first half of every internal meeting making fun of you. If you want good work out of your agency then treat them respectfully and they will more likely than not bend over backwards for you.

Be Hard But Be Fair

  • Push your agencies, demand inspired thinking and don’t settle if you aren’t getting what you want, but at the same time be fair and reasonable in your approach. If you are only allowing two days to develop a creative strategy then you have no right to expect the next Old Spice campaign. If you continually beat up your agency about price without compromise on the deliverable then you shouldn’t expect the top people on your business. And if you don’t put any thought, time or effort into the initial brand strategy and creative brief how can you expect your agency to be inspired to do great work?

Be Transparent & Inclusive

  • The more informed your agency is about your business and the more insight they have into why and how the decisions are made the more effective they will be. Don’t beat around the bush, get to the heart of an issue even if it is a difficult one. Your agency will appreciate it, will be better informed to make smart decisions about your business and will have clearer direction to do it with. Get them invested in your business and they will invest in your business.

Remove Obstacles

  • In my mind one of the most important things a client can do for an agency is quickly identify and remove any obstacle in the way of their progress, and often this starts with the client themselves. If you are not getting the work you want out of your agency look internally before you point the finger at them. Is your strategy too broad or unclear so that it is preventing the development of a distinct point of view in your marketing ideas? Are you being lead by tactics before strategy, which is causing things to get forced fit and thus is impairing the expansion of an idea? There are many things that can cause work to get stuck in the mud and it is your job to identify and solve for them, and that doesn’t always mean getting a new agency.

Just like any relationship, Client & Agency relationships take work and require communication, respect and mutual understanding, even if you don’t always agree, in order to prosper. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it should lay a good foundation to build upon.

Michael Giardina has been a CPG marketer since 2000 and has worked on both the agency and client side—putting together integrated marketing programs for brands such as Dove Unilever, Kraft Foods, and most recently, Bazooka Candy Brands. You can follow Michael’s blog at beyondreachblog.blogspot.com/ or via Facebook and Twitter @BeyondReachBlog.