Have you hugged your agency partners today?
OK – admittedly that sounds a little extreme, but the question is intended to be exaggerated to highlight the state of agency/client relationships these days.
In the old days, the agency/client relationship was long lasting, quite deep and very effective. These days the average agency/client relationship is four years. Is that because the agencies are full of overworked, under-experienced, over-compensated braggarts? In most cases, no.
For the most part, regardless of the issues facing the agencies, the agencies are full of hard working, well-intentioned innovative minds. To be an agency careerist is hard, and it’s full of challenges from many sides. Your competition is always coming after your business and the ethics of business aren’t always top of mind. Agencies undercut on price and they come after your best people. Being in an agency and pouring your heart and soul into the work of your clients can be a pretty thankless job, but those of us who’ve chosen this path know why we love it!
Being an agency person allows you to explore creativity and data all at the same time. It allows you to learn on an ongoing basis. It allows you to be innovative and it allows you to be a problem solver. The nature of the agency world is one of facing challenges head on almost daily, and creating solutions. Identifying a challenge and knowing that you can overcome them and succeed is what drives us. That’s the kind of thinking that gets agency people excited!
Of course, many of us will tell you that the agency business would be utterly amazing if it wasn’t for the clients. I jest (a little), but the fact is that most clients don’t value their agencies and they don’t take into account the human component of the work that’s delivered day in and day out, under intense conditions, in amazingly quick cycles. Rarely if ever does the agency develop the ideas they bring to you in the car ride over to the client’s offices. Most of those ideas were developed over painstaking hours and days and through any combination of late nights, frenetic brainstorms and emotional bloodletting. And nothing hurts worse than when a client shoots down your strategic vision in a matter of minutes for reasons like “they don’t like the color” or “but that’s what I read our competition is doing in AdWeek”.
By no means am I arguing that your agency partners get it right all of the time. Intelligent discourse is what truly creates great work, in both creative and media. What you should be striving for is that intelligent discourse, not just discourse for the sake of the meeting. When you select an agency, you select them because you believe they have the talent and the experience to bring value to your business, and that is what they do (for the most part, when compensated in the right way). Being a good partner means that you challenge one another and you try to make each other better. And you check your ego at the door. Being a good partner means that you value your partner’s strengths and you work through your partner’s weaknesses, knowing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s the same in any relationship and it should be the same in business.
My hope is that if agencies and clients can create the right kind of relationship early, in the compensation structure, then they can create a truly mutually beneficial relationship that lasts for many years. Both sides should be willing to invest time and they should never nickel and dime their partners. Both sides should get to know the other from a personal view. They should value the experience they bring to the table and they should understand that decisions are made based on all the information, not just your gut or some innate desire to have power in the relationship. They should have an implied understanding that if they go the extra mile for one another, that they’ll have each other’s back and that kind of relationship can go on for years and years.
So if you have a meeting today, take a second to appreciate your agency. You don’t have to engage in a group hug, but simply ask them why they did what they did and say thank you for the hard work.
What have you seen that’s worked and was successful at creating a long lasting relationship between agency and client? Share your thoughts on the Spin Board – I know at least 1,000 people that really want to hear it!!