Let’s face it, some relationships are better than others. For agencies, clients with whom you build a committed relationships based on mutual trust and respect invariably get your best work. Mutual trust is defined as a shared belief that you can depend on each other to achieve a common purpose. Clients with whom that kind of trust is established are our partners in creativity, our co-conspirators in innovation. These relationships are to be prized for they are the 20% in the 80/20 rule and they don’t come easy.
In this kind of relationship, both sides are committed to doing work that is differentiated. Safe does not cut it. Agency and client understand that great work requires an honest, collaborative approach with like-minded partners. The work is a mutual labor of love. When you get a great clients who think this way, never let them go.
Lately, these kinds of clients seem fewer and farther between. The dramatic change and fragmentation of advertising and marketing, along with the opportunistic rise of specialization, have challenged the committed, long-term relationship. The days of the AOR appear gone. Rather, it seems these days to be a world of quickies at the best price. The average turn-over for a CMO is only about 24-36 months while many marketers are struggling to managing a bevy of specialty agencies. Strategic and creative leadership is fractured and often at odds over strategy, creative, and more often than not, budget. It’s difficult to build a collaborative and committed relationships when managing a bunch of disparate resources with overlapping roles, all of whom are fighting for a bigger piece of the pie.
All these challenges contribute to short-term thinking. Never good for a healthy agency/client relationship. Success is evolutionary and progressive and one that bears fruit over time. Marketing decisions are always a blend of near-term and long-term decision making. If there is no accountability in the future (as in the CMO left for J&J), then price will always rule. And unfortunately, there will always be someone to do the job cheaper. In an age of specialization where the mentality is that no one agency can handle all the client’s needs, execution is sometimes commoditized. Once clients consider what agencies do as a commodity and brings the procurement officer to the table, we’re all in trouble.
But have faith. Great clients see the trap of these times. They know that a loyal and long-term relationship results in work that gets better over time. They know the risk/reward of the game and are ready to go up the line to fight for defendable, breakthrough thinking. They know that creative and strategic leadership and decision-making must be centralized to efficiently and consistently extend ideas across media, channels and devices. It’s never good to have too many chiefs. They know it’s not all about price or the lowest bidder, and that consumers can smell cheap. That quality matters. Great clients understand the intangibles of building brand and that it takes time to impact company revenue – often longer than a CMO’s tenure. They want to share the risk allowing agencies to feel safe in taking them. They expect the agency to share the credit, and rightfully, to share the blame.
Agencies looking for these kinds of clients know they need to earn the relationship by aligning with the clients reality, walking in their shoes. Clients need to feel safe too. Good agencies know their clients business inside and out, and understand performance is not just campaign based, it is inherently connected to the business itself. They recognize marketing decisions’ affects on revenue has both short and long term implications and must strategize accordingly. Good agencies never sacrifice performance for creativity, or vise versa. They understand that work must deliver in the near-term and build brand equity long-term. Good agencies are fully vested in their clients ongoing success. We want them to be heroes.
When this kind of client finds this kind of agency, relationships flourish. Collaboration rules. Risk is mitigated. Creativity is unrestrained and both sides are inspired to do their best work. We live for relationships like these. It is why we’re in the game. Even if it happens only 20% of the time. For these clients, we will be better than our best. We will open on holidays, live and breathe their business between 5:00 and 9:00, not just 9:00 to 5:00. We will stand in the gauntlet with them. And we will love every minute of it.