Is it trust, adaptability, responsiveness, efficiency, talent or pure chemistry that defines the best client-agency relationships in 2016 and beyond? We’ve watched clients bring design in-house and then out and in again, and have seen agencies expand and contract capabilities as clients ask for more or less (Yes! We now are ‘social/digital/multi-cultural/influencer’ experts). After years of change, it seems like the dust is settling and we’re seeing some key themes emerge that define what it means to cultivate a successful and productive client-agency relationship.
At this year’s AMA BrandSmart Conference in Chicago, Trinity was invited to moderate a panel discussion between B2B and B2Cclient-agency teams who seem to have the formula for success figured out. As the selected moderator, I facilitated discussions that included age-old truths and sound nuggets of wisdom from partnerships that have stood the test of time to produce outstanding business-driving work. Here are three themes we think are worth sharing:
Most agencies tout their ability to be transparent and collaborative with their clients. I happen to think Trinity does it better than most. But still, agencies (and some clients) like to have the “big reveal” moment. That’s a mindset of the past. The best work is done when we break down the us/them walls and give our partners the credit they are due. It’s a two-way street. Our panel reiterated the idea that they found success by inviting creative partners into business meetings (not just the account team) and client marketers into creative sessions. Opening the doors, being vulnerable and unveiling plans while they are soft and malleable can yield even better work. It’s not a turf war—heck, our clients aren’t really trying to design their next package—but more an opportunity to make the input and output better.
Be Nimble and Open to Evolution
Our panel readily admitted that no one agency can really do it all, but both agencies interviewed agreed that they have had to expand and redefine their services over time to meet client needs. There’s no way that Energy BBDO could have an 80-year relationship with Wrigley if they still only did print advertising and 15-second TV spots. As an agency, it’s up to us to really listen to our clients, beyond the words they use and keep one step ahead, adapting and innovating to meet their needs. For our clients, being honest about how we can adjust our teams and services to meet changing needs is a welcome conversation. Rather than switching agencies every time the wind blows, the client partners on these panels celebrated their agency relationships that adapted and evolved over time along with their business needs.
Build Trust to Build Business
Being honest—really, really soul-baring honesty with clients can be hard. When agencies are often battling it out for business, sometimes it’s easier to be agreeable and keep the water smooth. But yuck! This is not the way to build a solid and successful client-agency partnership. Probing into this dilemma with our panels, we heard, like a marriage, a strong partnership can only survive and thrive with open dialogue built on trust. With trust comes honesty. With honesty, comes the ability to deliver strong points of view that can be contrary to a client’s brief, business plan or vision. This can be a scary position for agencies to take but one that is built on a belief that open and respectful dialogue can elicit better work when it is not watered down by acquiescence and fear.
As my firm enters into its second decade, I look forward to building more of these honest, nimble, collaborative, evolving and lasting relationships with clients. Let’s grow old together and make amazing work driven by strong strategy along the way.