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Embracing the Partnership Approach

Embracing the Partnership ApproachHow do you create the perfect agency/client relationship? Niamh Twyford, who has worked for a number of leading international brands offers some useful insights.

Niamh Twyford So, here’s the thing….we all want to do great work that gets due recognition, whether that’s winning awards or delivering good ROI for shareholders. But in order to achieve that success we need to be part of a winning team that is focused on the best outcome, creative enough to deliver the best solutions and, most importantly, truly enjoying the process to get there. Happy people are more likely to deliver great work than unhappy people. Fact!

What gives rise to that happiness? In a nutshell I believe it comes about when clients and agencies truly work together as one team with one shared goal, giving each other the freedom to grow and develop, enabling the best possible solutions to naturally come to the top.

Having had the opportunity in my career to work on both the agency and client side I can truly say that the best work came about when there was genuine trust in place and room for laughter and fun to be injected into the development process. This can be easy to talk about but not always easy to implement, so here are a few suggestions I would like to put forward for how this can be achieved.

Time is precious, manage it well

As an account handler you are often tasked with juggling many different projects at the one time and it can feel like the client is dragging their heels in responding with feedback. You know you have a deadline to hit and the studio is getting booked up. The client, on the other hand, has numerous internal meetings and stakeholders to manage in the approval loop, but you can’t see that as they haven’t shared that with you. Working together, developing a proper project time-plan for key deadlines/sign off stages/holidays planned/offsite meetings etc would help alleviate the stress and give both parties much clearer understanding of the process. How often does each party see into the real operational world of the other? Not enough, based on my experience.

Be inclusive – open the door into the inner sanctum

Having worked for several blue-chip companies over the years, in both UK and Ireland, I’ve seen my fair share of great agencies. Some of these have been in situ for a long time, and others relatively new to the table. But what I’ve learned, is that the most beneficial relationships have come about when there truly is an open door between both parties.

This means giving the agency a real understanding of the business objectives, challenges and opportunities. It means sharing internal KPIs, research, insight into relevant stakeholders, business context for decisions. It’s lifting the lid and giving your agency an inside view. For agencies it means being clear about the compensation business model. Everyone is in their jobs to make money for their employers and that is their right. But attempting to hide how this is being achieved will only create dis-trust and ultimately lead to poor performance for both.  Like any good relationship it takes practice, but the more you do it the more you will reap the rewards.

Own your role – demonstrate honesty and trust will follow

I’ve seen it too many times, when the easy option as a client is to blame the agency for the poor performance. But when three or four or five agencies have passed through your fingers and the issues remain you must ask yourself where does the fault lie? Clients need to take greater accountability for their own role in the relationship. Have they been clear in their briefs, have they given the agency all the relevant and often changing information to enable them to do their jobs? Have they given timely and constructive feedback if they have early concerns over the agency performance?

For the agency side have you felt comfortable to truly challenge what your client is asking for, engaging in healthy debate about the required outcomes? Have you given your client what they say they want, and then also what you believe is the right solution where that differs? Has it gotten to the point where the fun is gone out of the work and you’d prefer to just walk away from the client rather than push back? Are you clear with your client about what you can and can’t do, for fear of losing them to a competitor? Where the relationship is built on trust both parties have a responsibility to positively push each other to better quality of work, better dialogue and ultimately better results. It calls for shared accountability.

Support each other –  engender loyalty and quality service

I recently started working with an agency that consistently supports me in delivering to my business’s needs, and when I commented on this the response I got was “that’s what we are here for”. As a result, it got me thinking about the relationship and my responsibility to them by extension. Knowing that they are prepared to go above and beyond the normal call of duty has made me very mindful of supporting them in return as best as I can. You see, it’s a two-way responsibility. If instead of seeing them as an agency that services my business, I see them as a partner that is equally invested in my business, how much better things can be. This same company works as part of a group that I have been dealing with for more than 15 years, and I have come back to them time and again because they have always delivered excellent service. It’s been the thing that has set them apart. When as an agency you put your client’s needs first you will engender a loyalty that has pay-back for years to come, and equally as a client when you fully respect your agency and treat them as a you would a colleague you will get the best results.

Relax and take risks

Given how much time we all spend at work it’s important to remember to have fun. We need to enable creative juices to flow and great work be created. As Clients you should want your brief to be the one that the agency looks forward to getting, either because it’s a brand that has scope to make a difference, the challenge you’re looking to overcome is a meaty one, or because your prepared to take risks and give the creatives some latitude. Whatever the scope of work your responsibility is to encourage the agency to push themselves to the limits of creativity when finding the solution, and to feel they can do this in a safe constructive environment. This is important. You need to create an environment where risks can be taken without fear of retribution. As Agencies please avoid the pitfall of proposing the simple solution that is “off the shelf” as inevitably your clients will see through this. Challenge yourselves to see what fun you can have with the brief, and you might surprise both yourself and the client with some innovative ideas that end up being the winner.

It may seem like all these things are blindingly obvious, and in truth they are, but that’s what makes them so powerful when you get them right, but equally so costly when they aren’t in place. Like any good relationship, over time it should become easier and a positive happy rhythm develops. Can you say that you want to go the distance with your agencies and clients? If so, great, but if not, what can you do to change that? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Niamh Twyford has worked in Marketing, on both the Agency and Client side for over 20 years. She is currently Head of Marketing for Pladis Ireland (formerly United Biscuits).

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ March / April 2019)© to order back issues please call 016611660