Breaking Up Is Easy To Do


The start of any relationship is an exciting time, right? Both parties are keen to make a great impression. There’s every intention that it will work out. But what happens when one, or even both of you start to have thoughts about jacking it in and heading off to Splitsville?


There are only two options; you either get out or you paper over the cracks.


And I’m not just talking about a relationship between two people, I’m referring to client-agency relationships too.

When the chemistry dries up


Sometimes there’s nothing specific, there’s just a gut feeling that something or someone better is out there, and that the relationship has run its course. Sometimes it’s because there’s been a change in needs or aspirations.


Last month we saw a huge shake-up in divorce law with the introduction of the no-fault divorce. After reading a few articles on the subject, mostly those that my social media platforms kindly put directly in front of me, I concluded that this reform has probably been welcomed by many couples who want out for no particular reason other than marriage just isn’t for them anymore.


I couldn’t help but wonder whether no-blame break ups should be encouraged more in business too. After all, there are instances where neither the client nor the agency have actually done anything wrong, they just aren’t a great fit or the relationship has simply gone stale.

The excitement of a new partner


This is exactly what happened to Sainsbury’s.


Six years ago, the supermarket giant ended it’s 40-year relationship with AMV BBDO to start a new one with Wieden + Kennedy stating that it was ‘looking for a fresh perspective’. This was definitely a case of a no-fault separation. The tribute that Sainsbury’s marketing director gave to AMV BBDO during the split was truly admirable.


“I’d like to thank AMV BBDO for the enormous contribution they’ve made to our business over many years.


“This has included some truly iconic campaigns, from Jamie Oliver to recent Christmas campaigns like Christmas Truce and Mog the Cat. We will continue to work closely with the AMV BBDO team over the coming months, including our Christmas 2016 campaign, while in parallel planning the transition.”

Upholding that level of trust, honour, and respect while publicly breaking up after 40 years says a lot about the two organisations. Obviously the AMV BBDO lost income, but they certainly didn’t lose their world-class reputation.

Habits are hard to break


Before the ‘no-fault divorce’ I reckon a lot of couples stayed together out of habit and their ‘comfy slippers’ lifestyle just became convenient. No doubt, this is the same for many client-agency relationships.


But for many that ‘comfy slipper’ stage can be dull, frustrating, and predictable. In business you’ll simply blend into the background, and no-one will see you. This stage is the beginning of the end if you don’t shake things up.


I believe that a partnership of any description should exist to bring out the best in each other, to act as cheerleaders, to motivate, to do things with the other’s best interest at heart. To be relied upon.


Now, you’ve got to ask yourself why a client doesn’t immediately end a contract when they’re not getting what they want or need from the relationship. Let me answer that for you.

  • They think that it’ll take a significant amount of time and effort to find another agency.

  • They consider the transition stages from pitching all the way through to the agreement of the KPIs to be painful.

  • There’s a concern that even if they discover a better agency, the same cracks will start to appear.

  • The client has already invested a lot of their energy and money with the existing agency.

  • The tedious handing over of assets, and social media account details.

But I put it to you that all this is based on their past experiences.

  • The right agency is out there waiting to be discovered. They won’t be making it difficult to be found.

  • They’ll make the transition stages incredibly valuable. They’ll use this time to help the client reflect and revaluate their goals.

  • With the perfect communication flow, face to face catch ups, enthusiasm, innovation, and creativity the relationship will grow from strength to strength.

  • If there’s no ROI, then let’s face it, it’s game over.

  • The new agency will make the handover seamless.


Is longevity dying?


I also wonder if we’ll start to see a sharp rise in the number of divorces and a decrease in the average marriage length as a result of the no-fault divorce. If so, it’ll be following the same pattern for client-agency relationships.


Back in the early 1990’s most client-agency relationships suffered from the 7-year itch. In the late 1980’s the relationships were lasting on average 5 years. Fast forward to today, and they’re ending around the 3 year mark.


As an owner of a design agency myself, I can’t help feeling a little sad at this statistic. Why aren’t all agencies doing more to build strong relationships, to keep the excitement going, to mix it up a bit when needed, to inject fresh ideas and concepts, and basically do what they can to avoid monotony?

Know when it’s time for the ‘we need to talk’ chat

If you’re not entirely happy with your current agency, follow your gut and see what else is out there. Remind yourself what it was like to follow your dream, to get excited about what you do and how you do it.


Don’t settle for ‘stale’. Take a page out of Sainsbury’s book, shake things up and do what’s best for you. Embrace your curiosity. Lean into your courage. Get back control. Succeed with the ultimate collaboration. And finally, throw off those comfy slippers!


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