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Communication

Keeping The Sparks Alive In A Client-Agency Relationship

Secrets to a healthy and successful collaboration

Photo by Bewakoof.com Official on Unsplash

Let me paint you a scenario. Imagine that you are going out on a first date. Typically, you would have a certain expectation of how the night will be. You would take pains to dress up, put your best personality forward and hope this will be reciprocated by the other party. Tendency, you would also set a goal of getting to know the other party further, hope sparks fly and expect the night to be the first of many more dates leading to a permanent relationship. 

Just like any new friendship, courtship or relationship, effort must be taken by both parties to meet a common goal. The same applies between a pubic relations (PR) or marketing agency and their client. 

In today’s business climate, increasingly, brands are relying on external PR or marketing agencies to execute their campaigns. This seems to be the most viable option when there is limited budget to hire a full-time team or when an ad-hoc campaign arises. What makes a successful and healthy long term client-agency relationship are ones that are usually bonded with deep respect, trust, and understanding between the two parties.

With so many agencies in the industry, selecting and maintaining a relationship with a permanent one can be challenging unless sparks continue to fly. Thus, the importance of setting clear goals and expectations. 

Developing a shared understanding of PR or marketing goals is a crucial component towards a permanent client-agency relationship. From a client’s perspective, share your objectives, the timeline, the expected outcomes and the work processes. Similarly, the agency should list the deliverables, the contract specifications, the account person in charge of the project, the agency’s working hours and costs for jobs done outside of the contract agreement.

Most importantly, be open to discussing expectations. While clients tend to seek immediate returns on investments for any campaign, as an agency, it helps to provide insights on how you can help them to achieve this. Just like any marriage, you do not expect the other party to know what is in your mind unless you talk about it.

For example, if you are engaging an agency to run a social media campaign, expecting immediate returns for an organic campaign is not realistic. In reality, any campaign will take time and rely on matter factors. To expect magic within a month from your agency will be unfair. On the other hand, agencies can provide successful case studies on what goes into a successful campaign and realistic KPIs so that the clients will be able to understand better. Communication is key and that brings us to the next important point about being open and authentic.

A healthy partnership takes two hands to clap, and each party plays an essential role in achieving this goal. Be clear on each other’s roles right from the start. For example, if your agency offers content development for your client’s campaign, highlight what you need from your client to develop these content. This includes the client’s marketing or product team’s involvement to provide the information and knowledge for you to develop the content. Both parties must be clear on the type of messages to prevent miscommunication or, worse, affect the campaign’s outcomes. 

As an agency, you are hired to provide consultations based on your expertise. Be honest and give insightful views on why you think a particular idea or concept may not be ideal. If the idea is not feasible, provide your professional opinions on why it will not work. It is better than doing something that is not going to serve any purpose to anyone, except loads of frustrations.

Similarly, for a client, you hired the agency precisely for their expertise and thus take time to consider their thoughts. Trust that they only have your interest at heart and thus, share views and opinions in an amicable manner. Most importantly, we are dealing with human feelings, and keeping the communication lines open with tact is going to make things less stressful.

For an agency, it is a good practice to do research and understand the nature of the clients’ business before you decide to pitch. If the industry or the area of expertise is not something you are familiar with, do ask questions, and determine if you are up to it. When you are confident of the client’s business, you will enjoy the journey and produce better outcomes. In addition, get your client involved and familiar with your agency’s onboarding process. Guide them on what to provide, the time frame, and why the information is crucial. 

One of the best pieces of advice I have learned from a professional speaking trainer, Sam Cawthorn was that the only way for anyone to improve is through constructive feedback. Focus on the problem and be specific on how to do things better. It is common for clients to expect  agencies to be perfect and be accurate all the time. However, at the end of the day, the agency is not you.

While agencies may have the experience of working with many businesses, they need strong support from the client’s team to produce the best outcomes. It is quite normal for emotions to come into play when the project is near a deadline or when things are not exactly going your way. On both sides, facilitate conversations that are not accusatory. Practice the art of listening with empathy and an open mind.

Having worked on corporate collaterals such as annual reports, newsletters, and branding guides, content approval can go many layers and multiple rounds. Therefore, it is essential to set up a seamless approval process to ensure fast and efficient turnaround. From an agency’s perspective, ensure that you have one contact person to manage the client. Similarly, for the client, ensure that one person works closely with the agency on final approvals to prevent miscommunications. You can even develop a simple content flow where you can see where the content resides and whose responsibility it is to get it moving.

Cultivating a good relationship is dependent on many factors. This includes patiently working with and adapting to different personalities, styles, and expectations. While it helps to have an assertive teammate, it is also essential to be an effective communicator who can reach an amicable resolution. If there are situations where personalities clash, it is wise for a senior member of the teams to step in and come to a middle ground. Try not to get personal and focus on what’s important. The industry is small and connected. It will not help any parties by spreading adverse remarks about each other. Mismatch can happen, which is common in any relationship. Either way, we should all value human relations and spare the remarks to prevent unfair treatment and uncalled judgments towards each other. 

In life generally, it takes time to get to know each other, develop trust, and earn respect. When we give the space to discover and acknowledge our strengths, our reputation and integrity will shine through. Words travel fast in the industry. For clients, positive comments about your working style and how you treat your agency will make you a dream client every agency will die to work with. As an agency, by making your clients look good and someone they can trust will help to alleviate your standing and brand value in the industry.

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Kartina Rosli
Written By

Kartina is Marketing In Asia's Editor for Op-Ed. She is also the Founder of Tin Communications. A media specialist with over 20 years of experience in both public and private sectors, she helps SMEs grow their business through strategic media and marketing plans. Connect with her on LinkedIn. You may also reach her by email at kartina@marketinginasia.com.

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