Here’s how to improve agency/client relationships

Striving to maintain a strong agency/client relationship is almost always a worthwhile endeavor—but it isn’t always an easy one. While both “sides” may ultimately want the same outcome, other factors and requirements tend to lead to friction. That friction, which often results in projects being delivered late or overbudget, is resulting in frequent agency reviews and even the threat of bringing client work in-house. What can clients and agencies do to work better together and remove the friction?

During an Adweek webinar sponsored by OpenText Hightail, guest speaker Jay Pattisall, Forrester principal analyst and former agency executive, shared that more than half of global marketing leaders look for revenue growth as a top priority—ahead of improving differentiation or brand reach.He said this requires agencies to be able to connect all marketing activity back to business outcomes, which means assembling agile teams, building more nimble service structures and leveraging operating platforms.

He also offered suggestions to help clients and marketers meet agencies halfway, including removing unnecessary conflicts (such as exclusivity requirements), which could hinder the sharing of expertise. “The agency needs to be able to promise that client data and client information is protected, but have the ability to build out more expertise and then eventually leverage that expertise across the rest of the agency business.”

In addition to Jay’s suggestions, we’ve spoken to many thought leaders over the past year to hear their best practices for managing better client and agency relationships. Here’s what stood out:

Don’t drive each other insane – This one sounds like it should be easy enough, right? But during a recent Adweek webinar Bruno Gralpois, co-founder of Agency Mania Solutions and the author of “Agency Mania,” shared insights into common ways clients drive their agencies insane and actions that can be taken to stop the madness. Instill these best practices to keep the peace with your agency:

  1. Give your agency enough time to produce quality work
  2. Clearly communicate why changes in direction are being made
  3. Only request ideas that you have the ability (and budget) to execute

“Too many clients expect breakthrough thinking or filet mignon and foie gras and champagne on a McDonald’s budget,” Gralpois said. “It doesn’t work.”

Work together on better creative briefs – Gralpois also shared that one-third of client budgets are wasted due to poor briefing, which can lead to agencies having to do extra work to fill in knowledge gaps and redo uninformed existing efforts. He said it’s important to keep your briefings on track by asking yourself several checklist questions, including:

Does the brief thoughtfully explain your objectives, marketing challenges and audience insights?

Is the brief an exciting assignment to work on?

Are all involved stakeholders aligned and clear on their involvement/role?

Going through such a checklist can mean better output from agencies and better mileage from budgets, according to Gralpois. For best practices on how to write a better brief, check out these 6 tips.

Get closer by working in the same building When News UK, an around-the-clock news organization, considered working with an agency, they wanted one that “moved at the speed of news,” according to Oliver Egan, chief strategy officer at Pulse Creative, News UK’s onsite agency. During a recent Campaign UK webinar, he shared that having an on-site agency meant “having people on the ground, available to move quickly who really understand the business and who are able to get things right the first time.” Egan added that Pulse Creative has also realized several benefits by being in such close proximity to the clients, including shared campaign objectives and requirements that eliminate the feeling of “them” and “us”; collaborative creation without “a lot of baton passing and a lot of approval steps”; and the ability to test, learn and iterate for “momentum over perfection.”

And having an on-site agency can mean work is delivered as much as 50-percent faster, James Sanderson, managing director of Wunderman Inside, added during the webinar. But there are three components that need to be taken into consideration before bringing on an on-site agency, including the ability to nurture, inspire, support and develop talent; the ability to provide “super-agile” processes and the ability to provide workflow technology that works with external and internal partners. (With File sharing and collaboration applications like Hightail, teams can easily share ideas and content both inside and outside of the firewall.)

Consider why your client is outsourcing in the first place Perhaps most important for agencies and clients to build solid relationships is ensuring that you’re working with the right partner and that everyone is “speaking the same language.” During an Adweek webinar, Susan Baier of Audience Audit Inc. and Drew McLellan of Agency Management Institute shared research and insights on different types of clients. Their research helped to identify 3 distinct segments based on why clients outsource work to agencies. From there, they said it’s important to understand which segment is the best fit for your agency to align with, and then develop targeted messaging and content specific to them. McLellan said it’s also important to manage expectations up front and “walk clients through ‘here’s how we work together, here’s what we expect from you, here’s what you can expect from us—and then have the tools in place to allow that to happen as seamlessly and quickly as possible.’”

Bottom line: It’s really easy to get hung up in the day-to-day trials of working with other teams. Take a step back and remember these considerations when working with your client or agency, and always remember they are your partners, your extended team, your allies.


1Forrester’s Global Business Technographics Marketing Survey for 2017

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