Remember those first dates, when you were consumed with each other; only had eyes for each other, nobody else mattered and they were the most important person in the world?
I’m not talking about your personal relationship. (That would be weird.)
I’m talking about your client relationship. As we approach the official day to celebrate love / Hallmark, and as someone who has been in a (client) relationship for 15 years, I am here to give my opinion on the formula for long lasting love… in the boardroom.
Make an effort
It’s easy to fall into a routine, bad habits and behaviors when you have been in a relationship for a while.
Just because you’ve become more familiar with each other over time, doesn’t mean that you can let your standards slip.
For most clients, the agency relationship (if it’s a productive and successful one) is one they cherish. It’s a break from their P+L challenge and more mundane tasks they have to endure (not another C&P meeting), which makes them look forward seeing you… so don’t disappoint.
It’s never been more important to show clients you care, given the agency choices they have today. You need to demonstrate you understand their professional pressures and can help with their challenges. That you know as much about their business, competitors and category threats and opportunities as they do…and have even developed some proactive initiatives that could make them famous.
Being completely focused on a client’s business and the individuals in the wider client-agency relationship is critical to build trust, commitment and provides the foundation for an open, honest collaborative relationship.
Oh, and shave. Even if you’re based in Shoreditch, or Brooklyn, don’t always turn up in sweatpants.
Keep them guessing…
“You’ve changed, you used to be so funny and engaging…where’s the spark gone? It’s not you… it’s me”….
No – it’s definitely you. Being perceived as a predictable agency is the death knell to a client relationship. A smart agency is able to keep the day-to-day fresh and interesting with a bit of grit in the oyster to keep everyone on their toes – but also able to deliver a well planned surprise at an unexpected but appropriate moment, to remind them why they fell in love with you in the first place.
Make sure everything feels different, better, more interesting every 6 months, but NEVER just for the sake of it. After all – if you just tease rather than actually deliver something of substance, they will quickly (and rightly) get bored and find someone better.
Trust is earned, not bought
Clients have to embrace marketing risk as part of their everyday lives. Never has there been a more dynamic, or terrifying, or exciting time to be a marketer.
The never-ending race to match their customer’s needs – and before the growing competition – is brilliant for the shared agenda of creative ambition and spark true innovation.
However, don’t be reckless just because a client has said they are up for it. You don’t want to be collectively remembered for that ill-planned impromptu moment you thought was a good idea at the time. Always think of the consequences.
Don’t get greedy, flippant or blasé. Don’t gloat to your friends or the industry. Treat clients with respect, as they trust you to take them to places and spaces where they haven’t been before. Show them what success looks like and how it will be measured, the plan to get there and what’s expected of them.
Don’t be shy. Reassure, cajole, motivate, challenge, provide counsel and show them the way with an equal measure of a soft and firm hand.
The ups and downs
“But YOU said this and he did that and she didn’t want that and YOU then said everything was going to be ok. But it wasn’t OK. Go and sleep in the spare room / bottom end of the agency roster until I decide what I want to do next.”
There will be good times and there will be bad times. The trust and commitment you build up in the good times, sustains the occasional bump in the road that might be unavoidable.
Don’t be persuaded to scratch that 7-year itch without thinking about what you are potentially giving up. There is always someone more attractive and exciting out there IF you are not looking at the world with the right perspective.
Just remember what you’ve got. The butterflies will be back if you talk it through.
Sharing everything (within reason) with clients will ensure a transparent, open relationship, which in turn makes it easier for them to have confidence in you, your team and your agency. Trust is worth its weight in gold.
The more open-book you are prepared to be, the more you share about how, why, when and where you do it and how much it costs (and how much money you are making), the wider your agency will be embraced within the entire organization, so you are less reliant on a few key relationships in the marketing team and can really cement your position in the boardroom.
Happily Ever After
So you’ve partied hard with each other, you’d tell each other anything, you’ve had awkward conversations, deep and meaningful chats, you’ve been through hell and back to deliver THAT campaign together, that won THAT award that’s proudly on your mantelpiece. You’ve disagreed, you’ve raised your voices, you’ve been ‘told off’, you’ve made up, and you genuinely don’t know what you’d do without the other.
Congratulations – it’s the route to both of you probably getting promoted!
Your job in the agency is, of course about producing great work. But it’s just as important you help your client’s progress, grow and develop their career. If you do that, the Fairy Tale ending awaits.