Everything about building a good client-agency relationship
Both the client and the agency have an equal role to play here in the development of a successful client-agency relationship. And the best relationships share some common characteristics: trust, collaboration, chemistry, mutual respect, accountability and honesty.
The agency’s objective is to help the client achieve its goals. And it’s important that the client works with the agency to facilitate this.
The agency’s role:
- Learn the client’s business: In order to deliver the best work, an agency really needs to understand the client’s business, their objectives, their USPs, why their customers have chosen to work with them and what the client needs from the relationship.
- Set clear KPIs: These should be carefully thought out and they should be realistic, achievable and agreed with the client in advance. It’s highly unlikely that the agency will deliver outstanding work that leaves the client delighted if success hasn’t been defined.
- Hire and train experts: Clients choose agencies with specialist skills, networks and knowledge. And so it is incumbent on the agency to ensure that their team is up to the task.
- Have the right systems in place: The only way an agency can deliver a consistently high level of service is by having the right systems in place. Good systems (from filing to approvals to onboarding new team members) prevent costly mistakes.
- Get it in writing: Whatever piece of work the client agrees to, make sure they agree it in writing. This ensures that everyone is on the same page. If an approach has been decided verbally, or discussed in a meeting, the agency should follow up with an email outlining their understanding of what was agreed and don’t start the work until this has been confirmed by the client.
- Report back honestly: Keep the client informed with regular reports. These should cover progress towards KPIs, but they should also include qualitative feedback on how the project or account is going. If a journalist hated the pitch, the agency should tell the client and tell them why. If the designer thinks their brief is too boring for the target audience, hold a focus group and feed back to the client.
- Be creative, enthusiastic and opportunistic: The best agencies are constantly challenging the status quo (such a cheesy phrase – we found it used a million times online when researching this piece so just had to include it), looking for opportunities to delight their clients and just generally loving the work.
The client’s role:
- Trust the agency: For an agency to do the best possible job, the client needs to trust them enough to share their confidential information with them, knowing that they will keep it confidential (remember there is a contract in place with a confidentiality clause).
- Help them: The client knows their business better than any agency ever will. The best in-house marketers will recognise that this can be a mutually beneficial relationship – working with an agency can be invaluable in helping them achieve their marketing and career objectives. They know that both parties will benefit from a great client-agency relationship, so they help their agency out. They remove roadblocks and help them access the right people in their business to make the marketing strategy a winner.
- Provide honest feedback: When you spend a lot of time with someone there are bound to be differences in opinion. Couples quarrel, and (likely) so will clients and agencies. The client-agency relationship isn’t always a smooth one, and bumps in the road are to be expected. Be honest about any issues that arise, as that’s the only way for them to be resolved.
- Be responsive: Clients should respond to agency queries and give them feedback on ideas. Approve the copy they send over, or argue with them about it.
- Pay on time: Chasing clients for money is so awkward. There is a contract, and the agency is meeting its end of the bargain. The client should meet theirs and pay on time.
- Respect the business: Agencies are businesses too, which means they can’t gift their clients unlimited resources to work on disorganised campaigns. There will be a certain number of hours or certain deliverables in the contract and there will be some room built in for flexibility. But it won’t be unlimited.
- Respect the agency’s relationships: Agencies spend years building great relationships with journalists and influencers. These relationships are key to that agency’s ability to deliver their work – but they can be easily damaged by clients’ not showing up for interviews, being rude or not delivering on a promise. That affects the agency’s whole business.
Things both the client and the agency should do:
- Socialise: Socialising is important. It builds trust and rapport and gives the agency insight into the client’s business that they might not get otherwise.
- Be human: Recognise that whichever side of the client-agency relationship you are on, you are dealing with human beings on the other side. These mere mortals might put the occasional foot wrong, but be generous, graceful and polite in how you deal with them.
- Let the relationship evolve: A good client-agency relationship should never stagnate. It should grow as the client grows, and evolve to keep pace with changes in the marketing landscape.
- Be realistic with budgets: The agency shouldn’t over- or under-sell its services and the client should compensate fairly. Use our guide to PR costs as a basis for working out budgets.
- End the relationship like a grown up: Even good client-agency relationships won’t last forever. Things change. Companies change. Agencies change. Requirements change. Budgets change. Sometimes the chemistry isn’t right. Or maybe the brief just needs a refresh. Whatever the reason for either party needing to end the relationship, do it with grace. Start with a phone call. Follow up with an email. Thank them. And work like grown ups to reach a happy conclusion.