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Clients are from Mars, agencies are from Venus.

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Author: Lynsey Walden

A good working relationship between a client and its agency is the dream, but it doesn’t always happen sadly. In fact, a survey conducted by Marketing Week found that just 8% of clients said they were “very satisfied” with their agency partners. Admittedly this survey was a while ago now, (2016) but there weren’t any more recent stats out there, so you know, it is what it is.

But it should work, right? An agency is a specialist in its field and can often bring a fresh perspective and expertise to almost any project. On top of this, the client benefits from being able to outsource work and get a team of people focused on making your idea a success. Quite often, if you’re in-house, you’ll have an idea but won’t know how to fulfil it and then by the time you’ve been in the three meetings you had that morning, you may not want to tackle a fresh idea that no one has even asked you to look at yet.

And before you get the agency in, there’s a procurement process and a brief, and you’ve had a meeting so you know that the chemistry is right between the personalities involved and that the agency understands what it’s been brought on to do. So with all these pieces in place – where does it go wrong? Unbelievable I know. Luckily at Front Door, we never have this issue (hmmmm), but we do know that it can happen. So in this article, we look at some of the ways a client/ agency relationship can break down and what you can do to get it back on track.

Always bring it back to the brief – often when you get tied up in knots on a project, you can forget why you were doing it in the first place. This can be to the detriment of almost any campaign – when one of you is trying to get a bigger logo or the other one is adamant you can’t put the word “leading” in a press release, it’s time to step back and look at why it all started. What was campaign about in the first place and what were you trying to achieve?

This is why it’s so important to get a brief in place – and for agencies to ask for the brief. Often we’re so cock-a-hoop that we’ve won a client, we forget to ask for the brief. But when you don’t have that to go back to, it’s difficult to get things back on track when there’s a problem. So a good place to start if things go awry is to refer back to the original brief and remember what you’ve been asked to achieve.

Agree what the results are – Equally as important as the brief is agreeing what the end goal is and the results that you want to see. A good example of this is when a business wants to “do social media” or “wants PR” but that’s a massive objective, and loads of room for it to go wrong. You have to think about who you want to reach and what you’re going to say, or it’s just not going to work and you all end up frustrated with eachother. We hate the phrase “what success looks like” but it’s really important to understand what will make the client happy.

Communicate – An agency doesn’t want to fail, and neither does the client want to go through another procurement process, so it’s in everyone’s interests to resolve any issues – if you can. The best way to do that is with a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. Sending an email is never as good as there’s loads of room for passive aggressive digs and being defensive (again, we’ve never done this), but if you just let the client / agency know that things aren’t going so well, it makes a difference, in our experience anyway.

Transparency – When things aren’t going great and you know they’re not going great, the worst thing you can do is fluff over it. It makes everyone uncomfortable and shift around in their seat. Also, as an agency, you have to remember that the client is paying (probably handsomely too) for your expertise, so if you don’t know something or haven’t done the job, be honest and upfront. And if something didn’t work – don’t try and triple the number of people who saw it, just admit it didn’t go as well as planned but you have some ideas about how it can work better next time.

Empathy – It might be a business transaction but it doesn’t hurt to be kind either. After all, everyone is doing their job and wants to do it well. No one ever said, “I’m hoping to do a really sh*t job here.” So sometimes when the client is having a go at you or the agency doesn’t seem to be getting it, it’s worth trying to find out if there’s something else going on. For example, as an agency, we have to remember that a client probably had to fight for the budget to hire you and then might have to sit in a boardroom once a month and tell the people around the table what they’ve then got for that money. So if a client needs a monthly report from you, try and imagine what they might be asked and how can you help them feel at ease when they’re being questioned internally?

Like any relationship in life, it can’t always work and there’s always a time where you just need to cut your losses and walk away. But the dream is that you have a really good client / agency relationship works and you achieve really great results.

Also, if you are looking for a new agency, we know a guy……

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