I client, take you, agency…

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Five agency / client vows worth keeping 

A special guest post by Elissa Freeman and Ron Guirguis

Imagine this scene: you’re in a large, light-filled room, surrounded by happy people. Two partners flushed with excitement face each other, with the look of hope and expectation in their eyes. An officiant (recently ordained over the internet) intones…

“Do you Client, take this Agency … to have and to hold, to agree or disagree, to work together with respect in good times and bad, or ‘til business fiasco do you part?”

This scene is not so far-fetched. Every day, all over the world, clients and agencies enter into a blissful union, hoping to live together happily ever after. Except it doesn’t always work out that way.

The nature of the client-agency relationship is remarkably similar to any romantic relationship you’ve ever had. There’s the dance of courtship, heavy-duty wooing, then commitment. Sometimes you date for a long time before making that commitment – and sometimes you fall so hard and so fast you don’t realize what’s happened until you’re…well…sleeping together.

Much has been written about how agencies can work better and more effectively with their clients, but what about the other side of the equation? How can clients work better with their agency?

After all, love is a two-way street.

As a pair of communications professionals (one client / one agency) who “tied the knot” a couple of years ago in a relationship that has survived crisis situations, job changes and an international move, we thought we’d share some of the Rules for a Successful Client/Agency Relationship that we’ve learned over the years … some from our time together and some (gasp) from our other (I mean, past) relationships.

Get to know each other. If you’ve ever met anyone over the internet, you know how easy it is to remain anonymous. Everything seems fine as you engage in cute email banter, but when you finally meet, you can’t help but wonder, “What was I thinking?” The same goes for your client/agency relationship. Get to know your point people. Find out what makes them tick and how you can mesh your working styles. It will go a long way as you go through the inevitable ups and downs of your work together.

Be thoughtful. Just because you’re paying the bills doesn’t mean your agency is at your beck and call. Think carefully about your day-to-day requests. How urgent is urgent? How can you be part of the solution to a problem you may be facing? Think twice about dumping work into your agency’s lap just because you feel entitled. Not only do all those little assignments add up when you get your monthly bill, but there are just some things clients need to do themselves.

Meaningful conversation. Just like you can’t guess what’s going on in your partner’s head, your agency will never know your expectations unless properly briefed. The problem? Many clients view their agency interactions in a “do what I tell you” approach. That’s not a relationship; that’s a transaction … which we all know is just not as satisfying. Besides, a lot of the nuance and important details are left out of those exchanges and the results are often less than stellar. If this is truly to be a partnership, then you have to open up to each other and be willing to give and take real feedback.

“I’d like you to meet my…uh….” Not knowing what to call your significant other can make or break a relationship. Same goes for your agency. In all our years of PR, we’ve both had our best client/agency relationships when we’ve had a true “partner” sitting across the table. Because that’s what they are – partners. When you each check your ego at the door, recognize you can accomplish more together than on your own and choose to work as a team toward a common goal … that’s when the real fireworks begin.

Be nice. Just like marriage, there has to be some level of mutual respect and support. Consultants are just like everyone else, they also get stressed when they work with difficult people. If they don’t enjoy working with you, they won’t be giving you their best effort. And while it doesn’t happen very often, there are cases when consultants will walk away from a relationship with a difficult client. In almost every case, this can be resolved by being nice, understanding and respectful.

We hope you find these Rules helpful as you manage your own client/agency union. But like all good rules, they need to be understood, talked about and re-evaluated. Be open with each other – we’re in communications after all! Ask the important questions: What’s going right? What’s going wrong? Don’t finger point or blame. Agree on what you can do better. And if there are irreconcilable differences, know when to walk away.

But the ultimate goal, of course, is to live happily ever after.

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About the authors of this post

Elissa Freeman recently became the Director of Communications for the Toronto 2015 Pan-Am Games after 17 years at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario. Ron Guirguis recently moved to New York to lead the Corporate and Public Affairs Practice for Fleishman-Hillard’s office in the Big Apple, after 10 years at FH Canada in Ottawa. Their client/agency relationship is now “long distance”, but still going strong.
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3 Comments

  • Reply September 16, 2010

    julia beck

    Smart, simple rules to live by. I think this deserves a place in our client contracts!

  • Reply September 16, 2010

    danperez

    You know, social media tends to make people complicate things. Everybody wants to be a "thought leader" or a "change agent", yes? Well, here we have some old-fashioned, sensible advice.

    Believe it or not, before starting my video production business, I was a Director of Sales in the high-end catering/family entertainment industry. I had clients who we serviced

  • Reply September 16, 2010

    Julia Zunich

    I wrote a post called PR & Clients: A Love Connection [http://zgrouppr.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/idaho-public-relations-z-group-pr-client-relations/] and the sentiment is the same: you have to build relationships to create partnerships. There is a similarity in the dating curve compared to the client relations curve. My advice would be: don’t be the easy gal/guy with a bad reputation. Hang on

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