Blog: The Dynamics of Client – Agency Relationship

The following article was first published in B2B Marketing and is part of a series of blogs she has written.

I read the recent blog by former Heineken CEO, Lesya Lysyj, (entitled “Your agency hates you, and you don’t even know it”), with interest and also some sadness. Do our customers really not like us from the start? Are they determined to make our lives miserable? Are they really full of trepidation and mistrust for us? I certainly hope not, or it will make developing an open and honest relationship very challenging indeed…

If you believe everything you read, the agency partner/client relationship is in pretty dire straits and ‘damaged’. The IPA recently released a report which found a huge disconnect between client expectations and experiences of agency partner delivery, as well as their understanding of the business context and changing times. This gulf became particularly evident with regard to an increased focus from the business side on customer experience techniques to engage and deliver results. Agencies, on the other hand, are frustrated by the involvement of procurement, a lack of involvement from senior client board level decision makers, and, tellingly, a focus from their own companies on being pushed to sell high revenue tactics and solutions rather than what is truly right for the client and their brand.

When did this mistrust and disconnect begin? If you believe these articles, it seems that many relationships, on both sides of the pond, between agency and client are fundamentally flawed. For some, this could be reassuring – clearly the issues faced here are universal. I would argue that the second viewpoint here is the most telling – if you begin from an adversarial position, and genuinely believe that your client or your agency hates you, things are never going to improve.

While Lesya goes on to make valid suggestions in her piece – advocating a better understanding of each side’s roles and pressures for both agency and client, it is the central idea which is most concerning. The fact that the very foundations of the agency-client dynamic seem to be rooted in a fundamental mistrust is highly worrying.

Needless to say, this mistrust and antagonism is not my understanding of the client-agency dynamic. We are lucky to work with many long term clients within our business; a bond which is fed by trust, reinforced by understanding, and driven by a continual assessment of whether activities and strategies remain fit for purpose. The old adage runs that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Sometimes, however, the same mechanics are entirely justified – what changes is the context in which they are used and the strategy behind them.

No relationship is perfect, both parties have to pro-actively work at the relationship. Be prepared to invest time, effort and interest in each other to get it right. Suppliers who are neglected, cut off from influencing factors on their work or held at arm’s length from overall business strategy are bound to feel frustrated. Whereas clients who receive disjointed, creativity, over executed ideas or feel like they are being milked for cash at every turn, are bound to also feel disenfranchised and un-happy. From whichever way you look at it, a plant which is not watered and nurtured will wither away.

As a client service team, we are fundamental in ensuring that the relationship ‘stays alive’, that both parties are getting the most out of the relationship and feeling the benefit of working with each other. Some simple ideas that we use on a regular basis within our client base and which continue to prove successful for us;

• Professionally and politely challenge your clients – they may not have thought that there are different ways to do things
• Understand each others challenges – what’s keeping them awake at night might not be what is doing so for you
• Understand both businesses team dynamics – who are each others stakeholders? Who makes the decisions and who are the influencers (you may be surprised at who holds the key!)
• Build trust and confidence
• Have fun together!

It’s worth a try!

August 13, 2015 | Blog