Whether it’s a friendship, marriage or courtship, there’s no denying that a relationship is hard work. And contrary to what romantic comedies would have you believe, the story does not conclude with you riding off into the sunset with the One. There’s still growing to do together, after that glorious moment.
Funnily enough, the same relationship principles apply to, and are crucial for the success of a client-agency partnership. Good communication won’t magically occur, and the success of a client-agency relationship is a two-way street.
Historically, clients and agencies have been portrayed as sworn enemies, perpetually at loggerheads with no hope for resolution. How can any good come out of such a contentious relationship?
Mutual trust and respect is the bedrock of a healthy client-agency relationship, where both parties have a common goal. Remember, you hired the agency because you think they’re capable – so instead of thinking of them as a nuisance, think of them as a supportive friend.
Agencies do have the potential to function as the client’s extended team – as long as they are given the right communication and materials. An agency has valuable insights, knowledge and other tricks-of-the-trade which they can bring to the table, ensuring a rewarding outcome for everyone involved. Here’s how it can happen:
BE ON THE SAME PAGE
It’s so important that the initial kick-off meeting between client and agency proceed smoothly without a hitch, as it sets the stage for an effective working partnership. Think of this meeting as a third date – you have met a few times prior to this, and have clicked, but are in need of a serious conversation to take things to the next stage. Encourage the building of trust and openness with the other party by being clear, honest and upfront.
Clients shouldn’t be holding back from disclosing everything to their agency – talk about your business objectives, expectations set by upper management, and fill them in on all your hopes, dreams and fears for the relationship. Tell your agency if you’ve had a less than satisfactory experience in the past – they would understand your skepticism. Being honest about your previous experiences would help them understand your apprehension. When agencies know your business inside-out, they can truly add value and do some great work – which is what you’re paying them for!
The kick-off meeting is also a good time for the client to understand how the agency operates, and for the agency to clarify what can and cannot be achieved, realistically. For instance, while a solid PR strategy will build brand awareness, it might not always translate into conversions, as that requires a separate strategy altogether.
Additionally, both parties should leave the meeting with a clear idea of the scope of the project, deadlines and different projects required to get the job done.
HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Promising the client otherworldly results, and then not being able to fulfil it is the fastest way to destroy the trust you worked so hard to build.
For instance, let’s say there is a fixed launch date at the end of a four-week timeline, yet ten days have been lost due to various reasons (other work-related emergencies, longer approval times from higher-ups). The agency loses out on valuable time needed to deliver quality work to the client, and are unable to meet the expectations of the original deadline. As a result, clients need to account for these situations, and allow the agency some buffer time so they can proceed with work uninterrupted.
BE COMMUNICATIVE AND COLLABORATIVE
Communication is an ongoing process which does not come to a grinding halt with the kick-off meeting. Regular conversations between client and agency results in openness and transparency, providing a chance for both parties to be in the loop regarding crucial developments.
Clients too need to update your agency when important information comes in. If higher management has called for a change in direction or plans, explain it to your agency. Consolidate all internal feedback before sending it off to the agency for further edits. Multiple, contradictory streams of feedback only serves as a hindrance for the agency, and does nothing except waste precious time.
Give feedback regularly and generously. Delighted by your agency’s work? Let them know. Unimpressed by their ideas? Also let them know. Frustration is natural when client and agency do not see eye-to-eye, but the key is to remain constructive even when disagreeing.
AGENCIES SHOULD 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.
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