Having spent half my career as a client and the other half servicing clients, I've learnt the do's and don'ts of how to build relationships and I've also made a few mistakes along the way. What I have found is that like any relationship, honesty, collaboration, transparency and most importantly trust, are the key ingredients for a successful long-term partnership.
My pet hate when I was a client was receiving a quote for a job and not understanding what half the costs were. Why did I need X days of account management? What do planners do? What's the difference between an artworker, designer and creative? A lack of transparency, poor communication and limited insight, often resulted in a loss of trust on both sides – I lacked control over costs and my agencies felt they were unable to deploy the necessary resources to meet my needs.
As an account handler, my primary role is to understand the commercial and day-to-day challenges which my clients face. Communication and collaboration is essential to this process as it enables both parties to predict and mitigate any potential problems, closes information gaps and continually focusses the agency on the client’s business challenges. By working together it is possible to develop collaborative working relationships which result in both parties feeling that they are receiving value for money.
Unfortunately, new agency / client relationships often begin with a discussion about budget rather than how we can create value for both organisations in the long term. The rise of procurement has brought this into sharper focus with price often taking precedent over value. The result has been an erosion of agency margins and the commoditisation of some services. More importantly, by focusing on price, clients often place unnecessary limitations of their agencies ability to add value to their business in the long term.
With the above in mind, I believe that stating your desired ROI and being clear what time and resource you are willing to commit to a project, communicating how costs are formulated and why, and having an honest conversation about preferred ways of working, are critical to building a successful client / agency relationship. By establishing the ground rules early, and not being afraid to have difficult conversations, we can minimise issues (perceived or real) and manage future expectations.
Ultimately clients and agencies need to move beyond the 'them and us' approach to doing business. We need to think long-term, seek to add value to the process wherever possible, collaborate, communicate and take shared ownership, and above all, work to maintain trust at all times. Without trust neither client nor agency can realise the full potential of their relationship and create the value that is vital for long term business growth.