The key factors for a successful client-agency relationship
+ 10 years. That is on average how long each one of our clients has been with us for. It’s a fact that we are extremely proud of, and one that we know we are fortunate to hold.
Yet our long standing client relationships haven’t happened by chance. Yes, luck – all be it a little – plays its part, as it does with anything. But we strongly believe we have made our own luck, by never losing sight of what makes our client relationships so great. And it is this constant focus that has helped to ensure that our client relationships have stood the test of time.
Therefore, in this post we are going to identify the factors we focus on for a successful client-agency relationship.
We’ve decided to write this post now, due to the wider current state of the agency-client relationship. With it having been brought into question somewhat this year – notably in reports like ‘The Soda Report’. An annual report which revealed the number of agencies reporting client relationship improvements falling from 70% to 53%.
It’s clear there are a number of factors driving this somewhat unfavourable view. Notably it’s because clients are increasing their use of different agencies – meaning they’re tending to not stay loyal to one shop. This is as a result of clients trying to evolve with the ever changing digital landscape. Which they are trying to do by pursuing more diverse, specialist and innovative work. Something that clients are finding hard to achieve through a single agency approach, and so are experimenting.
Clients have tended to always use a number of different agencies, but it would appear they are now doing so more than ever. The days of a client having just a single agency, arguably are over. As clients will be using a range of agencies, drawing on the specialist skills of each. Agencies are therefore best recognising this position. But should avoid just simply accepting it.
Instead, given the current dynamic it is now even more important that agencies focus on building client relationships. After all, for agencies, it’s best to be one of many, then none at all.
Our eight factors to focus on for a successful client-agency relationship.
1. A partner, not a supplier
Clearly this is as much about the willingness of the client to ‘let the agency in’ – so to speak – as it is about the agency knocking on the client’s door. The client/supplier model really does restrict an agency’s ability to produce creative solutions – solutions rooted in the client’s business objectives.
A client should be at all times aiming to immerse the agency in the culture of the brand and workings of the business. So much so that a partnership mentality exists. As when it is does, both parties feel valued. Trust, loyalty and understanding are the factors that will arise from a strong relationship. Factors vital for the creation of great work.
Furthermore, there is a need to cultivate a culture of shared success based on shared goals. Togetherness is at the heart of the most successful partnerships.
To be clear. If an agency has a deep understanding of the client’s business, the more value it can bring to each project. Doing so by not just delivering creative output, but by being a great source of insight and strategy, too.
2. Experience and industry knowledge
While we briefly touched upon this point in the previous section, it is worthy of a bit more attention.
This can be looked at from two different viewpoints:
1. Agencies ideally need to have prior experience in the industry and sector the client is operating within. But perhaps more importantly, they need to stay on top of any industry changes and trends that can inform any future client projects.
2. Agencies need to keep abreast of new communication technologies. Therefore, agencies need to constantly educate themselves on emerging technological trends and how they could best be leveraged for creative projects. Remember, this is a key reason why clients are shopping around with agencies – to try and stay up to date and evolve with the shifting digital landscape. If an agency can help them with this, then they are sure to be well valued.
These are two points that should really go without saying. But agencies all too often fall into the trap of just the ‘doing of work’. And so end up failing to educate themselves and subsequently the client, on their respective changing industries.
Always be educating, learning, and developing.
3. Clear lines of communication
Something else that should really go without saying, is how a relationship/partnership is only as successful as the communication that exists between the two parties.
As you know the most important part in communication is listening. Agencies need to closely listen to the client’s needs and goals. And conversely, clients need to listen to what agencies intend to do, and what they need to be able to achieve it.
We also believe that when it comes to approaching potential projects, both parties should be in communication from the very early stages. By that, we mean having discussions on the problem in question that requires solving. As what can actually happen is that these discussions will actually reveal the real problem that needs to be addressed. Therefore, the right brief can be formulated. Instead of one that was actually focused on the wrong problem. On the subject of the brief…
4. The importance of the brief
We’re big believers in that the client and agency should both be involved in the briefing process.
You probably don’t need us to tell you just how much work is involved in the creation of a brief. All the thinking, strategy, research and overall work that goes into it. It’s a significant amount. For a great brief.
Then, after all the time that’s been invested, an agency challenges a brief. Which is great. But they end up exposing how the brief isn’t right. Had they been involved right from the very start, valuable time would no doubt not have been wasted. And the right brief would have been put together. Leading undoubtedly, to the subsequent creation of great work.
The agency-client process works best when it is a collaborative one. And nowhere is this truer than during the very first stages of a project. The brief. Get this right and you are off to a great start.
6. Clearly define roles and responsibilities
During the early stages of a project there is one other thing that is best to make clear – roles and responsibilities.
You’d be surprised at just how many frustrated designers there are out there. But clients do not need to be the ones sketching out concepts, sharing fonts, or perfecting layouts. That is best left to the agency. The agency should be responsible for the creative process. The agency are the experts, and they are who is getting paid. Clients need to trust their creative counterparts.
7. Share ideas early and often
What the previous point shouldn’t do though, is put up barriers between the client and the creative. As we’ve already said, collaboration is a very important ingredient for a successful client – agency relationship.
Collaboration needs to involve the sharing of ideas, asking relevant questions, and providing feedback – especially of the constructive criticism kind.
It’s also becomes very effective when you rapidly prototype or formulate ideas, to share often and regularly with the client. Instead of a less effective way of almost hiding ideas from a client until they are fully worked up and placed within a good looking presentation. There are some lessons from tech startups to be had here – iterate.
A culture within the relationship needs to exist that promotes ‘speaking up’. The worst thing is when people are afraid to voice their concerns. Concerns that could have saved a doomed project. Whether it is the client who has concerns with the progress of the creative execution. Or the creative decides not to share their views on how the solution the client wants could be modified.
Collaboration is crucial. And people need to be made fully aware that true success can only be achieved if everyone feels comfortable collaborating.
8. Manage expectations
You should have noticed by now, how communication is a factor running through near enough every point we’ve made here. It should be of little surprise really. All relationships require effective communication if they are to survive and thrive.
This means that once you’ve clearly communicated the goals, deliverables, timelines, and deadlines, you need to continue to do so throughout the course of a project. That way, if something comes up, that alters the projects specifics, the client needs to know. Remember, manage those expectations.
A project will inevitably change during the process. But maintaining a transparent dialogue will help ensure that expectations change in accordance with the adjustments to the project.
9. Push boundaries
Our last and final point.
We believe an agency needs to continue to push boundaries. Ultimately the agency needs to come up with ideas that the client couldn’t and wouldn’t think of.
It is important that the agency understands where the boundaries lie, and so understand the levels of risk they can take. The risks need to be seen as creative, innovative and always of course – aligned with the client goals.
Clients are paying agencies to be creative. Agencies should always remember that. Never play too safe. You want the client to always be excited when presented with the creative ideas.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
That’s what can be said about a successful client – agency relationship. Ultimately it is the work that the client – agency creates together, that will show the strength of the relationship. But if you give the parts the attention they deserve. Then that whole can be so much greater…
Until next time