What goes into the recipe for maintaining a good client-agency relationship?

Relationships take lots of hard work. Be it a marriage, friendship, or courtship –  effort is required from both parties. And unlike almost every other romantic comedy out there, the story does not end after you find The One and ride off into the sunset. After that glorious moment, both people have to continue communicating as they grow together.

Believe it or not, the same type of relationship principles should be applied to the relationship between a client and an agency. Good work doesn’t magically happen, and the success of a client-agency partnership is a two-way street.  

But how can two parties, perpetually portrayed to be at loggerheads with one another, make the most out of their relationship? 

A healthy client-agency relationship is built on mutual respect and trust, with both parties heading towards a common goal. Remember that  you hired the agency because you believe in their abilities – instead of seeing them as a nagging nuisance, think of them as a friend supporting you.

When provided the right communication and materials, agencies have space to function as the client’s extended team. It’s then that an agency can bring valuable insight and tricks-of-the-trade to the table, and ensuring rewarding outcomes for both parties. Here’s how to make it happen:

Get on the same page

Few things are more important than the initial kick-off meeting between a client and agency, as this is what sets the stage for an effective working partnership. Think of the meeting as a third date – you’ve met a couple of times and are interested, but need to have a serious conversation to move forward together. Take the opportunity to encourage the building of trust and openness with the other party. Be honest, clear, and most importantly, up front. 

Clients, you should take this opportunity to tell your agency everything – disclose your business objectives, divulge details about expectations set by upper management, and fill them in on all your hopes, fears, dreams for the relationship. If you’ve had a less-than-satisfactory experience working with an agency in the past, it’s completely understandable that you would be skeptical this time round. This would be a good time to bring this up and share why you had been disappointed. Being honest with your experiences will help the agency communicate better about what they can deliver. When agencies have an intimate understanding into your business – blemishes and all – they can truly add value and do great work, which is what you are paying for!

The kick-off meeting is also the perfect time for the client to learn how the agency works and for agencies to clarify what can and cannot be done. For instance, while a solid public relations strategy is effective for building brand awareness, it doesn’t mean it will definitely increase conversions, as that requires a targeted content and lead generation approach.

It’s also imperative that both parties leave the meeting aware of the various moving parts of the projects, especially with regard to deadlines and the scope of work. After all, everyone is working towards the same goals, and expectations will be easier to manage when there’s trust and understanding of how each team works and why. 

Set realistic expectations

Whoever said to shoot for the moon so if you miss you’ll still land among the stars has never had to manage a professional relationship. If something can’t be guaranteed, neither the client nor the agency should set or agree to  sky-high expectations.

For example, let’s say there’s a fixed launch date at the end of a four-week timeline, but 10 days have been lost due to a longer-than-expected review process. The unforeseen approval limbo is frustrating and presents a lose-lose scenario for both parties as the agency has lost 10 days to deliver good work while still trying to meet the expectations of the original timeline. Sometimes unexpected delays happen – but if you know it’s unlikely to receive upper management approvals as quickly as your agency expects, give them a heads up so they can buffer in extra time when planning.  

Communicate and collaborate

Communication doesn’t stop after the kick-off meeting – it’s an ongoing process. The more communication there is between an agency and a client, the more transparent and open the relationship becomes. Making regular chats a top priority means clients will be up to date with what’s going on from the agency’s end, and any issues or concerns they are having can be addressed quickly and efficiently. 

The same goes for clients, too. Update your agency when important information comes in. Has there been a change of plans or direction? Explain it. It’s a good idea to consolidate the internal team’s feedback when reviewing the project deliverables before sending it to the agency for edits. Multiple streams of feedback can be confusing for the agency, and can sometimes result in wasted time, especially if there are contradictory comments to sift through and clarify. 

To build trust, tell your agency how you feel frequently. If you’re delighted with their work, tell them. Feeling underwhelmed by a recommendation? Talk about it. It’s natural to feel frustrated when the agency and client don’t see eye to eye on a particular approach, but the key is to remain constructive when discussing the disagreement, and to keep in mind the ultimate aim for both parties  is to achieve the best possible outcome. 

Take initiative

One common gripe clients have is feeling unsatisfied with their agency’s lack of initiative. As an agency, are you answering what your client is really asking for? Think beyond the brief and show how your ideas can complement the client’s overall business strategy. It’s okay to say no if you disagree with your client’s approach, but always provide a sound explanation as to why, as well as alternative suggestions that can help the client achieve their goals.

Clients, when your agency disagrees with you, it’s okay to feel taken aback or confused – but do your best to listen to them and see things from their perspective. If they have good reasons as to why they disagree with you and are bringing other ideas to the table, this shows that the agency is invested in your business, and are not just going with the flow and taking orders.  

In the end, there’s no magical formula to making relationships work well – but the most rewarding results are only possible when a true collaborative partnership has been formed between a client and an agency rather than a mere transaction. Behind businesses are people who thrive on a sincere bond, and positive emotions rather than fear or negativity will inspire both parties to not only meet, but surpass expectations. After all, the agency and client are heading towards the same goal – they are just approaching it from different directions. 

Want to know more about achieving great results as a productive team?  Drop us a note at [email protected]