What does a true agency / client partnership look like?
Recently, we hosted another “Put it to the Panel” event in the Evolution of the Agency Suit series, specifically for those working account management roles in Melbourne’s advertising, marketing, digital and creative agencies.
Moderated by Senior Firebrand Talent Agent, Ryan Kelly, the panelists provided some fantastic insights into the agency-client partnership from past to present, to how the future will look, and what factors can influence and alter these relationships.
Topic: The Evolution of the Agency Suit: How to truly partner with your clients
Our panel featured three agency leaders and two senior level, client-side marketing professionals who had extensive experience working with many different agencies.
- Geraldine Davys | CMO @ iSelect
- Moya Jakobsson | Client Service Director @ Online Circle Digital
- Cameron Rosel | National Digital Manager @ Vicinity Centres
- Ella Ward | Head of Account Service @ Leo Burnett
- Rebecca Robertson | Client Services Director @ Saatchi & Saatchi
Below are some of the key questions raised throughout the discussion.
Q. What does a true partnership look like?
Evolving together. Some of the best partnerships happen when you see your entire agency team and structure evolve, to reflect your client’s structure — a service model deeply embedded with your clients. This kind of integration is a good indicator of a true partnership.
From a client perspective, it’s really simple. You need to treat others how you like to be treated. If you treat the agencies well, provide them with clear engagement, be upfront about what you need from a particular brief, then you are in a mutually good position. The agency needs to understand the strategic needs of your business.
Q. Agencies: How are you teaching your team to be a real partner to your clients? How are you getting them to really understand your client’s business?
One of our account services ‘101’ is simply to ‘give a sh*t’. Find something about your client’s business that you care passionately about and make it your world, because it’s your client’s world. This doesn’t come naturally; we can’t all work on chocolate and booze. Seek elements of any business you work with, that you can become passionate about, and make it your world. Your clients will instantly pick up on and relate to this. They will then share things with you that they wouldn’t have previously shared.
You’ve got to be curious about your clients and their product/service. Understand what’s happening in their category as a whole, not just what your client is doing and wants to do. Keep up with the consumers: what they’re saying, what they’re doing, what they want.
There are ways you can add value if you look beyond what your immediate role is. You will find areas you can stumble upon where you can really add value.
Q. Client-side: What questions do you like agencies to ask you when they are taking briefs from you?
Giving a sh*t is really important. It’s really about learning how our team works; our processes and what we need. Some of the best partnerships we’ve had are when the agency acts like part of our team. Please ask lots of questions!
From an agency perspective, we need to take time to prepare and not just barrel into a meeting without much preparation because we’ve been busy. It’s all about understanding what value we’re trying to add and how we can do that.
Q. It was announced that Publicis are creating a bespoke agency for Suncorp – creating an internal agency. What challenges can this sort of integration cause?
Essentially it has to be a top-down initiative. It’s the people on the ground that are making it a reality. You have to reconsider recruitment for your team in terms of a personality as there needs to be a careful consideration as to the team you put together to do it. Culture is important here.
It comes down to your business and what you’re trying to do. It’s insource versus outsource. We understand that we can’t do everything in-house ourselves. We need external help, particularly for us on the SEO/SEM front, where we don’t have the ability to know all the answers internally.
Q. How are agencies and independents going to compete, and why are clients coming to you for specific needs?
They come to use because of our ability to turn things round quickly, speed, our agility and cooperation. Clients do build long-term relationships with us because they see us as channel specialists.
Q. Looking back over the years, how has the agency-client partnership changed and what will the next 5 years look like?
It will continue to speed up and change. Everything’s going so quickly. I really feel that when I entered the industry, there was a client voice and an agency voice, which brought with it a lack of respect and general integration with one another. I’ve found that the divide between those two voices has completely disappeared. It’s now one team and one voice.
Clients tend to be turning over their agencies much more quickly than they used to. Back when I started there was more retention and built-up relationships. They’re still there, but I feel that there’s less loyalty to those relationships.
I think the future of relationships is that there is a lot more positive back-and-forwards collaboration. Especially when there’s all of these software tools making the decisions for you.
Q. What’s your take away for client service professionals to get up each day and avoid stress?
My passion for my clients and knowing what I can do for them. Don’t get caught up with what you’re doing. Realign and figure out what it is you’re trying to do for your clients — you have a team behind you to help. Figure out what’s stressing you out and address it.
Give yourself permission to turn off you phone and get some fresh air. See where you are — if there is an actual immediate or a long-term problem then maybe you need to realign.
It can take a while to figure out. You learn what makes you tick and you can make small changes. Maybe this is in the form of a new challenge. There’s a type. A type of people that get the best out of me, a type of client that gets the best of me.
Putting things into perspective is the key important thing for me. Is it going to matter? We all work a lot; you can learn what you don’t like which is of course good to know.
When stressed and under pressure, I wonder whether anyone is actually going to care in 2 weeks, 2 months? Tomorrow is a new day. If you’re asking the question ‘why am I here?‘ then perhaps it’s time for a change. But there are learnings you can always take somewhere else.
Q. As a wrap up, can you provide one piece of advice?
As well as going above and beyond; do the basics. Provide a good quality service, treat your clients well and have open, honest conversations with them.
Don’t be afraid of your clients. Sometimes you think that the clients can be the cause of the problem. That’s only human nature to pass blame. Don’t just pick up the phone; go visit them.
Be passionate about what you’re doing and truly believe in what you bring to your clients. Clients will know when you truly believe in what you’re doing.
Find your peer, whatever level you’re at, and establish a relationship where you talk with each other. It’s a good way of establishing how you can get out of a situation, whilst not worrying about it as you have someone there, in a similar position, to support you.
In most situations, you’re in control. You can set the boundaries. You have to be able to understand consequences and risks. Be completely honest. It may hurt to start with but setting those boundaries is very important.
Q. Should we always go over the bar and can clients be too demanding?
Understand that you’re allowed to respond, ‘ok but shall we try this way instead?’. Always answer yes and, instead of shutting down conversations, even if your impulse is to say no. Deal with dramatic clients this way. They then see that you’re always there to help and can provide solutions — they will respect that.
It was a fantastic discussion with our panel and we heard many great insights into how to partner with your clients. If I were to pick 3 key learnings, I think I’d go for:
- Give a sh*t
- Build genuine relationships
- Don’t burn each other out