Lessons in love: How to keep the spark alive in your agency-client relationship

By Vizeum | 15 August 2014
Vizeum head of strategy

“Partnership is about mutual respect and ‘two-way’ dialogue”

“We’ve been together for many years, through thick and thin and the ups and downs”

“We’ve decided to reinvigorate the relationship and bring in someone new”

“Clients get the agencies they deserve”

We’ve all heard phrases like these in our industry that apply to agency-client relationships. I’ve often wondered about the parallels between these and personal ‘life’ relationships. Perhaps they have a lot more in common than we think?

Every day, clients and agencies break up with each other, find new partners or sometimes get back together again. Some clients are never happy with their agencies, spending time going from pitch to pitch, ‘playing the field’. And even when they decide on one, they may secretly ‘outsource’ some creative or innovation work to a boutique, specialist agency who promised them something that no other can provide. Oooh, the intrigue!

All honeymoon periods end. I don’t care if your agency has an armada of offerings or the client has Fortune 500 cachet: once the allure of mystery wanes with the passage of time, you’re left with the sobering three Cs of agency-client reality – capability, consistency and commerciality. Try picking up at a bar with that.

So, as managers of agencies, what can we do to keep the embers of love burning?

1. Remind yourself why you got into a relationship in the first place

I got tired of having kinky, mind-blowing one-night stands. I wanted someone I could really get to know, be immersed in their complexities (bad and good) and have a witness to our symbiotic evolution. Agencies need to define success as something mutually beneficial and strive to take the longer term view, even if the contract stipulates only a few years. Without these in place, the one-offs can be sometimes great, but often hollow, experiences.

2. Happiness is a decision

People often complain that happiness is illusory. They’re wrong. Happiness is not happenstance, a place or a trophy; it’s a conscious decision. In a life relationship, our contentedness is not defined by the things we buy or people we associate with. We need to start with a promise of happiness (or another noble value) and then find clients, projects and people who can help us achieve that.

3. Prioritising your respect and attention

Not all family members are created equal. Some, like my Uncle Harry and his stories about invading aliens are best ignored. And yet he hogs so much air time, simply because he’s the ‘squeaky wheel’. All agencies have tricky clients– sometimes loud and selfish, sometimes stubborn and disrespectful, sometimes toxic to the agency culture. But because Uncle Harry will always be family, we need to try to find a way to get along, before he railroads the Christmas barbecue.

We need to try hard to find the best way to work with our more difficult clients, and adapt to meet their needs, understanding that it takes all types and that everybody deserves to be heard. If that doesn’t work, we should be determining the clients who deserve our respect and attention – whether that’s for brand fit, networking potential, profitability or just plain love – so that we can structure our agency resources to give it to those who matter the most.

And there you have it: Three simple ‘life’ philosophies for agencies looking to fall back in love with their clients, or vice versa.

By Vizeum head of strategy

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