Why agencies get hired for the work and fired for the relationship

Paul Cowan
By Paul Cowan | 3 June 2021
Paul Cowan

Adman Paul Cowan is the author of Connecting with Clients

Why agencies get “Hired for the work and fired for the relationship”. And the real reason that Emma and Jason are in couples counselling.

Once the contract is agreed there are always two types of problems in every business relationship.

I call them Problem A and Problem B.

Problem A includes all the transactional issues upon which agency teams focus 99% of their time, energy and attention from brief to delivery.

Problem B, by contrast, is about the how client and agency teams get along together.

Problem B is influenced by and encompasses the client’s feelings, beliefs, concerns and levels of confidence or concerns about the agency; “Does the agency really care, does it listen, understand me and our challenges, will it deliver, go the extra mile’? and at a deeper level, “Can I rely it on their advice, do they respect me, do I respect them and their expertise”?

Problem B also encompass the agency’s feelings about the client, “Do they listen to our advice, do they support us to do our best work, do they appreciate our contribution, do they understand the challenges we face in delivering the best for them”?

Your client’s experience and perception of the way you and your colleagues manage Problem A is always mediated by their experience of the way in which Problem B is operating in the relationship or, to generalise, “how are we getting on together?”.

If your client feels positively about your agency, then generally she will respond positively to your recommendations and work.

And whenever things go wrong, which they will always do, your client will be more understanding and supportive.

Clients who feel positively about their agency are likely to be more loyal, accept recommendations more quickly; you will be happier, the work and margins better.

If your client feels negatively about your agency, then the reverse is true; however good the work it is more likely to be rejected.

When things go wrong, they will be “blown up out of proportion” to the issue. You are likely to feel dissatisfied on the account, the client will be less loyal and margins likely to be lower.

Facing me in my consulting room were Emma and Jason.

Their relationship was in trouble.

Emma complained bitterly about the way in which her partner failed to live up to her expectations in the management of their household and daily life.

Jason defended himself by listing all the counter points, the ways in which he contributed, an initial squabble developed into a heated argument over the ”facts”, each holding their point of view desperately tightly like a lifeline to their reality.

This was clearly a familiar “dance” into which they invited each other.

The steps of their dance were formed tightly around Problem A issues and, because of their gripped attention to this area, they missed the bigger issue in their relationship – Problem B; their immediate feelings about and towards each other were getting in the way of addressing what would normally be easy-to-negotiate Problem A issues.

Like Emma and Jason, clients and agencies can list all the visible, albeit sometimes small and multiple transactional, Problem A issues and ignore the powerful invisible forces of Problem B that are at work in their relationships.

When a relationship with a client begins to struggle, I notice that agencies, like couples, tend to focus more energy on Problem A and turn away from Problem B.

They get into the “grip” of Problem A.

Once in the “grip”, Problem A quickly occupies the entire screen through which they view the relationship and can lead to a spiral of decline and, at worst, relationship failure.

Couples generally have more emotional, psychological and financial interest in gritting their teeth and “toughing it out” than clients and their agencies.

Hence agencies once hired for “the work” can get fired because of the relationship.

Spend just 10 minutes each day focussing on Problem B on each account and each client contact.
If you hear complaints about Problem A issues focus your energy on Problem B.
Share your concerns about both Problem A and Problem B with your client.
Over the following weeks by focussing on Problem B the relationship problems that brought them to couple-therapy diminished.

They could then manage the inevitable Problem A issues easily. And that’s important because 69% of all relationship problems are perpetual and will keep us entertained for the rest of our lives*.

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