What is the difference between a good agency and a great agency? Creativity, staff, reliability, client servicing, insight, flair, market reach… the list goes on.
Having worked initially at a sports marketing agency specialising in consultancy, event activation and communications and then in a global brand sponsorship role I have experienced both sides of the divide and feel well positioned to comment on what makes it important.
In a world where agency services are increasingly commoditised through data and technology through the provision of insight, content and advertising, businesses still have a need for damn good counsel. Real people, providing expert advice, in a specialist field delivering comprehensive solutions to sometimes complex business challenges.
The reality is that the only way to differentiate between agencies, is through the quality of the relationship. Strong relations lead to stronger and more robust critique and better work overall. Whether you view the pitch process as flawed or not, at the end of the day when, as a client, you cannot choose between two parties based upon set criteria (expertise, experience, cost, personnel) you go with the agency you have a better relationship with – the one you like and trust.
It is not always easy, as we have experienced ourselves at Mallory Group. Relationships can be tested by strains on both sides, whether it be corporate politics, agency dynamics or factors outside of your control. There are however a few areas to think about which we believe are important to successful client/agency relations.
Outline rules of engagement
Be upfront as to how both parties like to operate. Some clients like detailed status reports and a full walk through, others prefer informal meetings and top line reporting. Some clients like to receive calls at a certain time of day and some agencies place a lot of value on their own internal meetings. It is about understanding the client and agency needs in order to operate in the most effective manner – it is different in each and every case but respect the way each other’s organisations function.
There is always going to be a reluctance to divulge detailed budgets and it is certainly in the client’s gift to give, but advising a budget for a certain project provides clarity of thought for a response, saves a huge amount of time and demonstrates trust.
In instances where a client is unsure of the budget they should provide a range of budget levels and ask for a response accordingly. In response, the agency should provide transparency as to how they have arrived at their cost. This will build trust on both sides.
Have some fun
We work in a fantastic industry and love what we do around smart, creative and inspiring people. Enjoy it, take time out to enjoy each other’s company and let your hair down once in a while… Celebrate the wins and commiserate the losses.
You will builder a deeper relationship along the way.
Treat each other as one team
Agencies and client positions can come with stigmas attached to them. The reality is that everyone has their own stresses and strains, be they at work or at home. It is important to respect these whichever side of the fence you reside and provide each other the freedom to be open and upfront when there are issues always dealing with them in a compassionate manner.
The most successful agency relationships I enjoyed at Jaguar Land Rover were completely natural – one team, no politics, hard work, shared passion, good fun.
The client/agency dynamic in our industry has long been a challenge and with greater in-housing by businesses and commoditisation of product and service offerings by agencies, client/agency relationships risk becoming more transactional. I honestly believe (I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing if I didn’t!) that there will always be a place for agencies in this industry – they are a counter-balance to corporate business providing specialist expertise and execution that cannot be brought in-house. Success however relies on strong relationships which must be built on transparency and trust.
At Mallory Group, we are focused on creating long term relationships with our clients. We are specialists in our trade who will provide direct, and at times challenging, counsel to our clients in our quest to deliver exceptional results. But we also enjoy the journey, making new friends and building stronger bonds along the way.
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