Jennifer Andersson

Making the most out of client agency relationships – BIMA Breakfast Bites 8 Oct

Posted by October 9, 2008
1 Comment

At the recent BIMA Breakfast Bites, Kerry Glazer, Chief Executive at AAR (the UK’s leading agency search, selection and relationship consultancy), offered a unique insight into client/agency relationships – looking at why they fail and how to reduce the risk of this happening.

To examine this in more detail, AAR commissioned a piece of research to include 26 clients and 20 agencies. The objective of this exercise was to source an overall impression of the quality of each participant’s client agency relationship, discover what factors are important to establish success, and gain insight into why these relationships fail.

Results showed that the majority of those surveyed believed that client agency relationships are managed fairly well, but that the main reason for failure was ‘avoidable’ reasons. The predominant feedback from both sides seemed to be a distinct failure to listen and lack of clarity.

Why does it go wrong? Looking at it from a client’s point of view, the four most common things that cause a relationship to disintegrate are:

  • Failure to listen

  • Agency inflexibility

  • Stale thinking

  • Lack of hunger

And from the agency perspective, the same is true, with the top four reasons being:

  • Failure to listen

  • Lack of hunger

  • Client inflexibility

  • Loss of focus and attention

Sound familiar? The results are most definitely interesting – as they show that both clients and agencies are thinking along the same lines, with a distinct awareness of why a relationship is doomed. But the question is – does anyone look out for the early warning signs? Or do we all wait until the final straw, and begrudgingly say goodbye without a word because we didn’t do anything about it?

Relationships can fail for various reasons, and if these problems are not recognised and dealt with, you get caught up in a downward spiral with a very slim chance of redeeming yourself. For a client, it seems the ultimate call for a failing relationship is when there is:

  • Poor agency response

  • Change of client personnel

  • Agency personnel issues

There are a lot of ways to prevent potential issues. Looking at the research findings, it becomes clear that the key points to positively managing a good client agency relationship are:

  • Set clear expectations/ roles

  • Establishing and maintaining excellent senior relationships

  • Structured relationships are more likely to last

  • Clear communication

For clients, things can quickly go wrong when there is a lack of delivery and poor understanding of their business. In order to avoid this, clients need to think of agencies as clients too, and get them involved in their business.

If agencies establish and maintain strong client relationships (& vice versa), understand the brief that they are being given (clarify & ask questions) and deliver what is expected of them by setting clear expectations – they are off to a very good start. A big mistake is when an agency thinks its all going well because they connect with a client on a personal level. The truth is, if you’re not delivering what you are being paid to do, you will soon find the ‘liquid lunches’ coming to an end.

A final point to remember is that clients who work in a productive way with the right agency for their needs can fundamentally affect the success of their brand or service. So what is the ground for a solid client /agency relationship? In short, the answer lies in good partnership, and that works both ways.

  1. On August 26th, 2009, Tom Hendrikson said...

    In our experience, Agency people can often sense when their clients are withdrawing from the relationship but may not be in tune with it at the time. These are usually revelations that come to them after the fact, sometimes too late unfortunately.

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