Simon Francis: It’s Valentine’s Day – how can love blossom in the agency/client relationship?

Unknown-9Simon Francis, CEO of integrated marketing company Flock Associates, suggests some ways that clients and agencies can build true love into what are often fraught and short-term relationships.



The quality of the relationship between marketing and procurement clients and their agencies, determines the quality of the work the clients will receive. But it is not only down to the agencies to make the relationship a positive, fruitful and sustainable one.

So, for Valentine’s Day, let’s look at how clients can manage a long, successful, sustainable “love affair.”

Clients should ensure that the best ideas and thinking, commitment, collaboration, and great work and teams, are written into the DNA of the relationship before appointing a new agency. It is not as much of a “pre-nup” as it sounds!

The average client in the UK has seven agencies or more. This means seven or more different contracts, terms and conditions, and relationships to manage. The relationship’s “love” level will only be attained when the relationship is properly set up to succeed, rather than just expected to “happen”.

Some folk think it is just about personal chemistry. The PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) looked at this topic in a recent report and this is what they said:

“While 51 per cent of agency respondents thought it (personal chemistry) was the key ingredient, just 19 per cent of clients agreed. Meanwhile, 17 per cent of agencies thought ‘regularity of communication’ mattered, but only six per cent of clients did. It seems that agencies think they are having a relationship, while clients think they are having a transaction”.

Of course contracts, scopes of work, briefs, and processes need to be carefully prepared, defined and written to optimise integration and effective, happy relationships.

Here is the outline of how we believe the best client/agency relationships are built:


1. Are you in love, need to rekindle a romance, or find a new love?

Before you run out to try and find new passion in a new agency, define what the objectives are for running the pitch. If you are thinking of replacing an agency, ask yourself the Why’s? An example might go like this:

I want a new agency.
The current agency is not doing great work.
The team does not seem to understand our brief, and the work we want.
I think the planner does not get it.
We have not explained our brand well enough to them.
Not everyone on our team is aligned to the brand proposition.

So, in the example above, it may be that a costly pitch could be prevented, and a “romance rekindled”, by addressing the root cause of the relationship breakdown.

But, after doing the Five Why’s, if a pitch is inevitable, you should define your requirements based on your existing and future activity to ensure you find an agency that helps with current needs but can also deliver against long-term business plans.

Define what internal process changes are needed, how the agency shall fit into your overall ecosystem and what their required role within this is.

An extensive review of the agency landscape and assessment of agency fit versus the selection criteria should be conducted. Seek industry expert opinion and first-hand experience when starting the screening process.

Your selection criteria should take into consideration:

*Ownership considerations
*Company culture
*Creative capability
*Integration capability

If working to improve an existing agency relationship with a single agency or an entire existing agency roster, the above points are still valid. However, you might also want to evaluate if the necessary disciplines or resources are covered in your roster to deliver the best possible integrated outcome for your campaign or project.


2. Setting the scene for Love; Give your agencies the right contracts, briefs, and the right motivation

Write your agencies’ deliverables, KPIs, scopes of work, contract, and remuneration schemes in a way that makes integration, collaboration, open communication and accountability a contractual definite. Do not just put it in the contract – live it and make it integral to how the work is carried out throughout the entire campaign.

Defining and developing robust briefs and criteria will speed up the decision-making process and make agency comparisons much simpler. The work the agencies will ultimately deliver will only be as good as the briefs they receive. So good briefs are crucial… Do your briefs spell out the purpose, objective, structure and timing of a campaign or project? Do they inspire great work and ideas? Are the deliverables and KPIs clear? Do they explain short and long term business goals?

The best briefs specify the client needs, while allowing enough freedom for creativity. The best briefs ask the right questions about the agency to ensure there are no surprises. Are they fit for purpose? Are there any systems that could be introduced to improve the output?


3. Let Love blossom: Inspire your resources to work brilliantly together

The best relationships are the ones where all parties make equal efforts to make it a successful relationship… So once you have selected the right agencies and resources, and built your own internal team to carry out your campaign, make them work brilliantly together.

It is important to get off any relationship to a good start. The IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertisers) have recognised this and written a 100 day “kick-off” charter”, this may be useful. In our view 80 per cent of the success of a pitch is the work done AFTER the appointment. Read about the Pareto Principle here.

It is necessary to get the resources and agencies to align behind one strategy and one set of objectives. New processes can be written, ways of working can be improved, but only if everyone involved know what they are aiming for and what their role in getting there is. Sometimes a simple but well thought RASCI (Responsible, Accountable, Support, Consult, Inform) goes a long way in improving relationships as everyone knows what is expected from them, while avoiding duplication, misunderstandings, time wastage etc.

We believe that a good way to build trust and to work well together is to get all the different parties to meet! Sounds obvious? You would be surprised at how many agencies and client teams have never met all together and are yet expected to deliver integrated, effective and efficient global marketing.

Think about what tasks you want to be co-created and which you want agencies to work on alone. Spend time and money on team building! Build a culture of trust and enjoyable collaboration.

Marketing is done by people, for people. So get them to meet and have fun. Just like in… wait for it… any relationship! It is Valentine’s after all.


4. How good is your lover? Evaluate your agencies’ work objectively

On several campaigns, we have seen work being carried out by agencies without any form of independent measurement or evaluation of the efficiency, outcome or results of their work once delivered. The best agencies will want to have their work measured, as it will prove their value. The not-so-good agencies are not so keen on this step… Understandably.

Some agencies will measure their own work, which is sort of a good intention, but completely biased and self-interested. How can you possibly evaluate your own work objectively?

Putting in place neutral and unbiased measurements is the best way of making sure your agencies are treated fairly, and to build the basis for a healthy, sustainable and happy marriage… errr… relationship. Not just a Valentine’s-style short-term fling.

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