Change on both the client and agency side is inevitable. Parallel Path’s Senior Strategic Consultant, Andrew Utech dives deeper into how an agency can be a proactive leader in assuring stability and long-lasting client-agency partnerships.
In an industry that’s so fickle, how can agencies and clients instill a sense of stability in an effort to make lasting high performing relationships? This question is always a challenge for agencies, especially when they are faced with turnover at their clients’ companies; from the day-to-day points of contact all the way up to the Chief Marketing Officers and CEOs. Agencies are constantly having to prove and re-prove themselves to new client hires who may prefer the agency they partnered with at their last job. Likewise, clients have to deal with the turnover on the agency side, often complaining of account leadership changes as their number one reason for leaving an agency. No client-side marketer wants to start a job and make their own lives or their co-workers’ lives more difficult, and agencies must deliver consistency despite inevitable changes on their end. This is where incumbent agencies can use the excellent work they’ve done in the past, proactive transition plans, and communication to lead the process during these inevitable changes and assure a lasting client-agency relationship for the future.
Past proof of success and understanding of the brand
A common first question a new CMO will ask when they inherit an agency at their new company is “how have you contributed to our growth?” If that is a tricky question to answer, it may be hard to make the case for your continued partnership and you can assume the CMO’s favorite agency is waiting in the wings for you to inevitably be ousted.
Not only is it important to be able to prove success, but also proves that the agency understands the brand and its goals. If an agency can be the brand educator to new employees, they are an invaluable resource and can show that they are deeply ingrained in the company. A brand’s new marketing leader will appreciate an agency that can help them get established at their new company.
Being the marketing historian can be a major benefit. For example, new client marketers may look at trendlines and ask, “what happened that month?” If the agency has the background to answer those questions, it will help the new CMO, VP, Director, or Brand Manager from having to relearn what works and what doesn’t.
Conversely, when the agency has changed on its side, the last thing the client wants to do is ramp up and onboard the new agency contact with historical data, campaign reviews, brand overviews, etc. This is where an internal onboarding and client brief is essential. The client wants confidence that the new agency team member is ready to hit the ground running without delay. The agency should communicate the process for onboarding their new team member on the account and instill client confidence. Assure the client that everyone on the account team, including the new team members, knows the why, how, and what of the brand’s goals, strategy, and campaign execution. Communicate how the new team member is adding value to the account and helping to achieve the client’s goals.
Deep and Diversified Relationships
A brand’s marketing team can consist of anywhere from 1 to over 45+ people, but more often than not, you will find companies somewhere between 3-10 marketers strong. Agencies will ask for a client-side single point of contact to ensure work is streamlined. Although that mentality will help with efficiencies in daily work, if the daily point of contact leaves the company, it leaves both agencies and brands exposed. The agency will no longer have a day-to-day relationship established at the company and the other marketers may not have a good working knowledge of how they are supposed to partner with the agency. It often leads to a lack of stability in the work that has been done to date and the plan that was previously defined and agreed upon.
Agencies should expand their relationships with their clients. This brings more people into the know about what the agency and client have accomplished together. More visibility means more buy-in for both the client and the agency. These relationships make everyone involved feel like they are working as partners. A single point of contact does not mean a siloed relationship is best. Both the agency and the client should look to expand and deepen their relationships with each other.
Doing great work and growing a brand is the number one reason why companies keep their agencies, right? You might think so, but in reality, it is more of a balance between performance and relationship. When performance is up everyone can feel good but that’s not how growth happens. It goes up and down and sideways and that’s where the strength of the relationship between the agency and the client becomes the foundation of a lasting partnership. When the relationship is strong then the agency and client will be more inclined to work together when everyone needs to roll up their sleeves and sharpen their pencils. Agencies and clients alike want to work with people they like and respect. It’s a huge added bonus to forge friendships out of working relationships, which is not as uncommon as one might think.
Something that makes an agency stand out from others, especially in new relationships, is proactively bringing new ideas. Being OK with the status quo, or even worse, waiting for the client to tell you what to do provides little to no value to a client. Agencies should not just be order takers. They should feel confident providing their ideas, points of view, and expertise. The client wants to know that their agency is an expert in their craft and that they know things the client may not.
Sometimes clients do not always take agency recommendations, for one reason or another, even when the agency feels strongly about them. New faces are a great opportunity to bring back old recommendations that were tabled.
Likewise, when a new team member arrives at a client, the agency should be open to hearing new ideas, and fresh perspectives and value the experience that the new hire brings to the partnership. Part of being great partners is listening to each other and being confident that a healthy discussion and even debate is part of the growth process for the brand.
Personnel change is inevitable for both clients and agencies. Looking for new ways to help grow trust with clients through historical knowledge, improved performance, growing relationships, and presenting new ideas is how an agency can help secure a lasting partnership with its clients.