More Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones than Brangelina

Is what I have with my clients a marriage? I guess it is - of sorts. My previous two blogs have certainly alluded to the client-agency relationship being more than just a trusted partnership with my musings on no-fault breakups, comfy slippers, and a need to put the other person first.

But I can’t help feeling that this isn’t enough for a client and their agency? Is there a higher relationship status to aim for? Do we need to take a completely different approach to nurturing professional relationships to avoid the ‘we need to talk’, chat?

More than likely.

“You’ve changed!”

I’m not a soap opera fan, but I imagine that these words have been screamed venomously across the cobbles or square many a time. Probably followed by a cry of, ‘I didn’t sign up for this!’

In an actual marriage, these words would no doubt signify that the end is nigh.

On the other hand, a chat about change within a client-agency relationship is not a time to walk away, it’s a time to embrace a paradigm shift. Change should exercise the supreme level of trust that exists between the two parties; one that invites candid conversations and acts as a solid foundation that can withstand an about-turn.

Enhancing trust: Removing fear

Zeta-Jones herself gives this advice, "It's a long road and I think people today are so quick to throw in the towel on marriage. You have to give it your best shot and not give up when the first problem arises."

I can’t agree more, in a trusted partnership, both parties need to share success AND failures. To keep the excitement going, you have to try different things, and in doing so, you must share the risk.

When trust is embedded, you know that the other party isn’t going to leave you high and dry when something doesn’t go to plan. If you thought this, you’d be ruled by fear and never even try to deviate from what is expected of you.

The work spouse: Too close for comfort?

Have you heard someone refer to someone they work with as a ‘work wife’, or a ‘work-husband’? I have, and I have to admit it makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Surely, there has to be a bit of space between professionals. Without space there’s a real danger that they’ll just end up agreeing with each other.

In a client-agency relationship that is never a good thing.

Both parties need to have a voice. To speak out. To challenge. To say when they’re not happy. Only through effective collaboration can a client experience positive transformation and benefit from top-drawer ideas.

A marriage but levelled up

No matter the nature of the relationship, they are all going to have their good days and their bad days. It’s the way you respond and react that makes all the difference.

In a client-agency relationship the perfect balance must be struck.

  • You must get along, but not be afraid to say something for fear that the other person may not like it.

  • The agency must never think that they know best, instead they must know that their superpower lies in being able to think differently.

  • You don’t feel threatened by change but see it as an opportunity for greater success.

  • You don’t dwell on things that didn’t go to plan, instead you learn from them and drive forwards stronger.

  • You know each other well and become comfortable in each other’s company without habitual behaviours setting in. There’s no place for predictability or complacency.

Why isn’t 3 the magic number for agencies?

There’s a pattern in the client-agency world. It goes like this:

  • Hire agency.

  • Create some great campaigns.

  • Make money.

  • After 3 years, repeat.

Surely, it’s got to be more rewarding to invest in the partnership, and for both parties to enjoy long-term success.

For me, a trusting and meaningful professional relationship is worth nurturing. But this isn’t to be confused with showering the client with constant love and affection, and only telling them things that they want to hear. In business, to nurture is quite the opposite – it’s to give them things that they didn’t ask for.

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