Why does one advertiser select an agency that another has just fired? Most agencies have about the same capabilities. Maybe some differences in resources but not enough to cause one agency to fail while another succeeds. So what is it that creates a review for one and a satisfactory, if not laudatory, grade for another? Talent certainly is critical. But many of the same people shift back and forth from one agency to another all the time. Indications are that it comes down to relationships. Real relationships; where the agency is almost a family member to the client. A valuable and "always on" contributor to the client's business. So what is the relationship factor all about? What does it entail? Here are a few suggestions.
1. A great agency lives and breathes the client's business. Always thinking about what improvements can be made. What innovations can be brought to the table. Anticipating and leading when appropriate so that key agency team members are sufficiently engaged to earn the respect of the client. And yes, handling mistakes and misunderstandings quickly.
2. An agency fosters longevity when it recognizes that there is a financial partnership between the parties. If the client has to reduce costs the agency is willing to share in the burden, even if it means a temporary loss that may be regained later. The agency must also be transparent about salaries, overhead and profit margin.
3. The client-agency relationship strengthens when the agency is always creating new ideas. Things that the client or another agency haven't thought of before. Things that are a real distinction for the agency. And the client.
4. A willingness to have measurable performance, regularly. Guidelines that both the client and agency can live with that have actionable consequences for unrealized expectations.
5. A likability quotient. Chemistry counts. And people always prefer to work with people they like. Agencies can't make things difficult for a client. Or create obstacles. Remember the old saying "if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem". It's true. And, on a person-to-person basis agencies must always strive to make their counterparts look good.
6. Apply lessons learned. Not every relationship will work out no matter how hard you try. Sometimes it's a matter of personalities. Sometimes too many things get taken for granted and the challenge wears off. Sometimes a situation goes unnoticed and was not brought to the surface. The important thing is to spend enough time trying to figure out what went wrong. Don't let history repeat itself by not thoroughly examining all the possible reasons.
7. Know where your agency stands in relation to industry benchmarks. Regular audits are not a bad thing. It helps to keep clients from thinking the grass is always greener.
8. Leader to leader compatibility. Time and again we have seen that when the client CEO or CMO knows that the leader of the agency is there, to take care of things and act when trouble arises, the relationship is often cemented.
So let's keep reminding ourselves that when we are committed to these principles and understand how to use them, we increase both our success rate and sustainability for a long lasting more profitable relationship.
Mike Drexler is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Drexler/Fajen & Partners a media consultancy and agency review firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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