There was an article in Ad Age earlier this year that caught my attention: “Agencies: Stop thinking like a vendor and act like a partner.” Amen to that. It’s a great commentary written by Drew McLellan, who also has an agency here in Des Moines.
What struck me is that this good advice to agencies can — from a different perspective — also be beneficial to clients. After all, loyalty goes both ways in a relationship. We all know that clients aren’t just looking for a one-campaign stand either. So as the agency-side of the relationship shares wisdom (with other agencies) on how to inspire faithfulness, clients should also consider how that same advice can be used to ensure they, too, are getting the most from the arrangement, and that their agency remains ever-loyal and is the best partner possible. Let’s go through the article’s “Six ways agencies can inspire client fidelity,” and see how they translate to the client side:
Tip No. 1, for agencies: “Know the client’s business.”
For an agency, that is a must. But, how can that translate to what the client perspective might be? How about, “Expect and enable your agency to know your business.” Offer your agency partners whatever tools and experiences you can, to give them as much access and insight into your business as possible. Train them like you would your top salesperson, so they can be as effective as your top salesperson.
Tip No. 2, for agencies: “Care about what your client cares about.”
Going further, it reads, “Partners share passions and support each other in the pursuit of them.”
From the client-side: You don’t have to invest more money to support the passions and interests of your agency. Let’s assume you’re not opposed to what your agency supports, or it likely wouldn’t be your agency. Simply show that you appreciate that your agency stands for and supports something admirable. That same loyalty and passion can be funneled toward your business, so you’ll want to encourage it. People want to partner with others who are passionate about what they do — it doesn’t matter if you’re the agency or the client.
Tip No. 3, for agencies: “Engage in tough conversations.”
Clients should also encourage and foster an environment for candid discussions with their agency. It’s everyone’s responsibility — client and agency alike — to build a rapport that makes those conversations easier. Clients should welcome an agency that is frank and up front. That is a good demonstration of honesty. Which leads us to …
Tip No. 4, for agencies: “Adopt transparency.”
There is a difference between honesty and transparency. Honesty implies that your agency partner will tell you the truth in a straightforward manner. Transparency goes deeper, showing a willingness to provide truthful information and details even before they are requested. Good agencies do this and do this very well. Clients should expect transparency, but also recognize that transparency coming from your agency is truly effective only when it’s reciprocated by the client.
Tip No. 5, for agencies: “Own every mistake.”
How should clients view the expectation that their agency should own mistakes? My perspective is simple and straightforward: Of course everyone makes mistakes. But expect any mistakes to be acknowledged and fixed, and prevented from happening again. At the same time, understand and acknowledge when there may be mistakes on both sides. If you have a good partnership, everyone should be able to move past the situation once it’s addressed and fixed, and there is confidence it will not happen again. If that’s not possible, there might be a larger problem lurking that needs to be discussed.
Tip No. 6, for agencies: “Banish bad-mouthing.”
Basically, publicly complaining will get an agency nowhere (and it might make the client go somewhere else). But this applies to clients too. If you’re having problems with your agency, be prepared to have a quick and crucial conversation. Your agency partners cannot fix what they don’t know about; and they can do little unless they understand the specifics and the history. Good partners in any relationship talk with one another to solve problems. Which brings us back to the “Engage in tough conversations” tip for agencies. All agencies and clients would love to only have successes to talk about. But, just like in any relationship, sometimes there are issues to work through. How those issues are resolved is the true test of a long-term agency and client partnership.
No doubt, agencies want to keep their clients for decades, if not longer. And, of course, agencies want their clients to work with as few partners as possible. At the core of our businesses are key relationships, not just because of our industry, but because we spend so much time together that honest conversations and easy flow of work are critical to all of our successes. But it’s important to remember that clients invest a great deal in those relationships, too, and in some cases, even more than agencies. So it’s in a client’s best interest to ensure its agency is an attentive, productive, and especially loyal partner.