How Advertisers and Their Agencies Must Leverage and Readily Adopt Industry Best Practices in Order to Build Productive, Long-Term Relationships

Built to Last:

We’ve all heard about the tragedy of the luxury British steamship that sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912 in the North Atlantic. We remember the story because it has inspired countless books and films. The Titanic also became a cautionary tale about overconfidence as it was believed back then to be an unsinkable ship. Yet several studies would later highlight design flaws, from new state-of-the-art watertight bulkhead compartments that didn’t consider the possibility of water pouring from one compartment into another and the alarming shortage of lifeboats with available seats for only one-third of those on board.

The same can be said about the overconfidence of our industry about the state of client/agency relationships. Once in a while, we are reminded of the deterioration of the relationship between clients and agencies. Recently, the “Trust Report” published by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) indicated that the trust between clients and agencies has declined by 28% compared to two to three years ago. Yet, we go on with the belief that these issues will work themselves out over time. We know that they don’t.

Thankfully, the American Association of Advertising Agencies or 4A’s decided to act and publish a new playbook called the 4A’s Relationship Management Best Practices Guidance. Although clients and agencies alike suffer from the lack of common sense relationship-building practices, the agency industry is most impacted by the rising number of reviews and other consequential trends that may be attributed to trust or relationship issues, like the growth of in-house agencies.

The playbook, which I was honored to contribute to, is focused on narrowing the divide and knowledge gaps that are at the core of these relationship issues: unclear or false expectations, lack of goal clarity, blurred partnership principles, and lack of understanding of what it takes to build a healthy, lasting partnership. The playbook and several resources can be found here:

This is a topic near to my heart, as I address many of these challenges in depth in the 2nd edition of Agency Mania, which recently launched. What I like about this playbook is the laser focus on the elements that are important to build such relationships, namely the search/pitch process, the importance of a 100-day check-in, and how to continuously evaluate and improve the relationship using 360 evaluation surveys.

Performance evaluations are a common practice among advertisers these days. Yet too many companies are not getting truly actionable insight and are missing out on the opportunity to have meaningful discussions with their partners. Sadly, evaluations become a check mark on someone’s to-do list and don’t receive the level of attention they deserve. It’s important to design an evaluation process that invites rich dialog and enables clear action plans to course-correct and strengthen the relationship over time. The strongest relationships are those that are constantly evolving. Matt Kasindorf, SVP–Agency Management Services, 4A’s, says it best: “Relationship management is how you keep winning after you’ve won.”

If you are not regularly reviewing progress against action plans with your agency, you are not getting top value from these relationships. Relationships – even the best ones – take work. Don’t be overconfident and miss the potential hidden icebergs ahead. You may have heard the expression: “The Titanic was built to last. Let that sink in.”

By: Bruno Gralpois, Co-Founder &  Principal, ANA Faculty 

Published on: May 15, 2019

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