Love is elusive, ethereal, addictive, and yes, sweet when you find it. The quest for love is confounded by the notion that it requires two different people not only liking each other but developing deeper ties — they become integral to each other’s well being.
The notion of love applied to the advertising agency business seems equally elusive, if not corny.
What are the odds of two companies coming together to share a common view, create value, and become indispensable to each other's success? Oftentimes, business relationships are grounded in practical notions of fair trade for services rendered, burdened by legalities and economics.
But where is the magic in that?
Agency-client relationships need structure to function yet love to create something special: a dynamic where client and agency teams work together to create ideas and brands that impact the world and engage others in community and conversation.
Writer and humorist James Thurber says:
Love is what you've been through with somebody.
Such an ideal can inspire a few who carry the torch or embolden the organizational culture of an entire organization. But it also defines and characterizes relationships that work.
Many client-side marketing leaders need their agency counterparts. They need agencies to bolster their credibility in tough conversations within their own organizations. They need them to help sell-in and up the concepts of marketing that require the investment of dollars and the vote of confidence from other leaders outside the marketing discipline. The act of explaining and regularly defending how advertising communication is intended to engage targeted consumers is like battle. Good agency-client teams face this hurdle armed with data, but they are bonded by shared beliefs and passion for the cause. Often their mutual survival depends on it.
Clients value agencies that bring them the goods — the strategies and ideas that elevate their brands and connect them with consumers.
Clients admire the talents of agency people who see the world around them with empathy and creativity and who take massive amounts of information and data and produce insights and ideas.
Agencies need clients for obvious reasons, but good clients provide agencies with more than a paycheck. They bring agencies the opportunity to make, create, ideate, and produce. To contribute something to the culture that didn’t exist. To succeed in business when others do not.
Romance author Nora Roberts wrote:
Love and magic have a great deal in common. They enrich the soul, delight the heart… and they both take practice.
Client-agency love is born from a set of seven concrete practices that result in sweet things. So in honor of Sweetest Day, I created a soundtrack to complement these seven practices and to show you the way to building a loving and mutually beneficial relationship:
Agencies that work with their current clients with the same intensity and effort they employ for new prospects will keep the relationship as fresh as the bright blue sky. Clients that provide strategic direction, quality data, and financial commitment will inspire confidence among their partners.
Take a lesson. The fastest way an agency can build trust with a client is to deliver results. The second fastest way is to listen, respond, and adapt to a company’s evolving needs. The most effective way a client can endear itself to an agency is to show respect, to value its people and work product, to consistently acknowledge the emotional investment they make in the assignment, and to accept thoughtful recommendations born out of the depth of agency experience and expertise.
Clients and agencies that spend quality time together experience new horizons. Agency and clients that catch a plane to work in-person, learn at a conference, volunteer for a favorite non-profit, tour a factory, work a storefront, talk to consumers, and celebrate success together will reignite relationship embers.
Before the relationship is off the rails clients and agencies are well served to employ the classic 360-degree feedback system to better understand what’s working and what’s not. A look at people, process, product, and performance usually gives teams enough to focus on improving before one party determines it’s too crazy and exits.
Cultural alignment between client and agency teams is more than a romantic notion. It’s the enlightened view of how to work better together. The quality of the relationship is not based on mere attraction but a powerful alliance, anchored in shared values where participants fight for the concerns of the other, have each other’s back, and are tethered to succeed.
Growth and development bring expansive thinking and expansive networks. Agencies that introduce their various clients to each other and to valuable strategic resources and promotional partners to benefit their clients and not themselves, are sexy. Clients that refer leads, introduce new clients to the agency, provide outstanding references, promote, “like”, tweet and link with their agency partners are pretty fly, too.
There is no doubt that today’s competitive business climate demands steady performance and outstanding results. The credibility one earns from producing business results is not to be taken lightly. But the love one earns from fulfilling relationship expectations consistently and faithfully also deserves sweet praise.
Originally published Oct 17, 2014 3:00:25 AM, updated July 28 2017