The Nuptials of Client-Agency Relationships : It Takes A lot of Work, Trust and Open Communication
Updated: Jul 26
Truth be known, I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I’m a pure realist. I have a very simple strategy in life. I plan for the worst and hope for the best! And in nearly every case neither happens. The outcome typically lies somewhere in between, probably where it should. So, what does this have to do with media? Quite frankly, a lot!
Too often client’s expectations are too high. A company that is losing 5% per year for the past three years hires an agency and expects in a few short months to have a campaign negate the loss and turn sales positive by 10%. I’m not saying it can’t or never happens but rarely is the reversal of fortune that immediate and for good reason. In this article I want to explore some of the reasons why.
What has happened to the company in question that sales have dropped drastically, not for a single year but year after year? Is it, new competition? Maybe they have made no brand advancements or worse yet, they stopped connecting with their customers. Worst of all, maybe the sector is falling out of favor with the consumers.
If a company doesn’t continue to work on R & D, they run the risk of being overtaken by another company who eventually builds a better mouse trap. If a company that once owned a space finds themselves with new hungry competition, then # 1 better not let # 2, get up off the mat. Worse yet, maybe # 1 has become complacent and has taken their customers and success for granted and they just don’t have the same relationship any longer. Whatever the case now they hope an agency can cure what ails them.
This is often when a company finally decides to engage outside help but won’t relinquish any control to their creative messaging or media placement. They want input but only input they are comfortable with, and the message typically needs to have the client’s fingerprint all over it. I often find myself asking, but why?
To me, it’s clearly obvious that if they already had the correct answer then they wouldn’t be enlisting the assistance of outside firms, and their sales wouldn’t be slumping.
Client’s need to listen and respect their agencies more, not be suspicious of them. And agencies need to do more to earn the respect of their clients by being honest and forthcoming. This is the time that 1 + 1 doesn’t = 2, but rather becomes 1!
A good agency will become submersed in their client’s business, learn the ins and outs of their everyday operations from start to finish and literally measure their agency’s success based solely on their client’s success, not their bottom-line profits.
But maybe that is where the disconnect starts, right at the onset of the relationship. Imagine if on a first date that your date pulled out a prenup and asked you to agree to it. I don’t know about you but I’m leaving. And if you are foolish enough to stay aren’t you already suspicious of your date? But that is what procurement departments often do. They don’t look for the best fit, values, service or work ethic, instead they look for the agency willing to sign on the dotted line.
Creative and media are tough businesses, and both are getting more complicated by the day. Trends, technology and consumer sentiment seem to be moving so quickly that it feels nearly impossible to stay current on every facet, yet as agency folks we must. That is what we are paid for. Clearly our industry is advancing faster than most other industries. So, a client also needs to understand that to create the right mix there will need to be some experimentation. Time and comparisons are needed to determine which pieces of the media puzzle are the most effective and which need to go. And, while certain forms of media are more traceable than others it doesn’t mean the less trackable portions don’t work.
To create a great partnership both sides need to understand that results, real results are a conglomeration of both sides working together as hard as they can and allow each side to be candid with the other.
Too often agencies live in fear of saying the wrong thing and being ousted. That’s no different than your spouse telling you they want a divorce every time you say something!
In the end I have one simple philosophy. My clients must win for me to win. To do that it means both sides must understand that everyone involved should always be looking to find the best answer, not just confirmation of theirs, whether they be the client or the agency!