Building a strong and enduring client-agency relationship is paramount but it involves trust, shared ambitions, attention to detail and, of course, great ideas, writes Pat Stephenson of Boys + Girls.
All lovers and lifers of advertising are chasing the next hit.
The electric smash that starts at the nape of your neck and quickly explodes in the cortex.
Your clients got a really tough, non-unique business problem and nothing new to say.
A stale category.
You see nowhere to go.
The brief has let some unexpected air in to a musty room.
A creative spark.
That’s become a great idea.
You feel that electricity like you did for the first time.
Rare. Beautiful. Fragile. Wonderful. And above all – valuable.
This idea could build a business. Reignite a brand. Get people to entirely reimagine their point of view.
It’s a big one. A ‘You’re not you when you are hungry.’
A ‘Campaign for real beauty’.
Made of more.
All you need to do is to get this idea into the world.
When I was young and black of hair I was a true believer in the primacy of the great creative idea.
Like Tolkien’s ‘One Ring’, I believed a great creative idea could make itself seen, talk to the world and conquer all before it with its powerful magnificence.
But I was entirely and painfully wrong.
It took me a solid ten years to get to understanding that a great idea, addictive electric shock aside, was nothing – would turn to ashes – without a great, trusting client and agency relationship. When I was talking to the new recruits into client service in Boys + Girls (a department now I think more aptly called Relationship Management) I would always ask them: “What does our Creative Director think is the single most important aspect or service in the making of great creative work?’
Most saw in the question the need for a less obvious answer. The answers would vary.
Super insightful strategy? A great brief? The best creatives? Laser sharp, unexpectedly brilliant ideas? Loads of budget? Data pools??
They were always surprised when I told them that he knew – even with his very creative centric view – that without them doing a great job that it didn’t matter a damn how good anyone else did theirs.
They would inevitably ask how do you create or maintain the conditions for a great client and agency relationship?
Obviously it’s complex and ever changing but I’ve tried to boil it down to three main characteristics.
Alignment of Ambition
The most important thing that a great relationship needs is a clearly stated, shared ambition between the client and the agency.
An ambition aligned around the client’s business needs and related marketing goals and the agreed way the agency is going to help them achieve them.
This creates the conditions of trust in each other that whatever the argument or issue that may arise in a process – and arise they will – you are both entirely sure that either side is only concerned with making the best, most effective work with those goals in mind.
The better the work often the more dangerous the journey that the work has to go on. Objective and subjective reasons can kill off entire projects, especially when you are doing work that is even slightly out of the ordinary.
And the only way to ensure you have a chance of overcoming these issues is when both sides trust that they both have exactly the same end-goal in place.
This level of alignment can be hard to build and requires constant attention. We’ve worked hard over the years on methods to try and break down any misplaced perceptions on both sides, leaving only a clear stated business objective and marketing goal.
We need our clients to know, to feel deeply, that we are looking to help them achieve their business objectives – and in doing hoping to help them do this small part of their jobs.
If you can achieve nothing else, seek to achieve this.
If alignment is the secret sauce, a lack of accuracy is the slow poison.
Because it’s rarely if ever the big stuff that kills or stifles a great relationship.
More usually it is the drip, drip, drip of disappointment and bad communication.
In fact, according to the recent IAPI Survey conducted by Up To The Light and taking in over 600 client interviews in the UK and Ireland, 84% of clients who leave or want to leave their agency cited client service relationships issues as the cause.
Things like not flagging issues early, sloppy attention to detail, poor communication.
Proof that it really doesn’t matter if the work is brilliant, if everything else you do points to a lack of care, untrustworthiness or just not giving a damn you don’t stand a chance.
Always be thinking unto them!
With clarity of ambition and great accuracy in your day-to-day dealings, you are off to a good start.
But how do you make it great?
Always be thinking unto them. Always.
When you understand your client’s business inherently and in detail. Finding every aspect of it interesting and of interest. When you appreciate their working culture, internal politics and ‘how it works’. And when you are a master of your business – knowing what is and isn’t possible in terms of creative, production, media.
You will see business problems as yet uncommunicated to you. Marketing issues as yet identified. An opportunity to so something unasked for that can have a big impact on this business.
This informed proactive thinking can be transformative in terms of a relationship. Proof of alignment of ambition. A demonstration you understand their business deeply and are looking for it to succeed.
As I continue into my third decade working in this amazing industry, I still chase the next hit of electricity.
Of a GREAT idea formed somewhere between impossible and now.
But the real hit I get is not when I see it. It’s when I get to share it with a client with whom I have built up understanding and with whom I have shared sweat and victories. When we both see it. And feel the jolt.
Now that’s addictive.
Pat Stephenson is chief relations officer and a co-founder of Boys + Girls.