Why Advertisers and Agencies Should Improve How They Work Together to Maintain a Healthy, Loving and Productive Relationship

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I love you. I love you not.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Looking back, the earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by French nobleman and medieval poet Charles, Duke of Orléans (1394 –1465), to his wife, while he was being held in the Tower of London following his capture. He wrote:

“Je suis deja d’amour tanné, Ma tres douce Valentinée…” (read: something very romantic in French, you will have to trust me on that or Google Translate it)

Charles was captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 while trapped under a pile of corpses, after falling to the ground and being incapacitated by the weight of his own armor. It’s hard not to draw a parallel between Charles’s story and the current state of the client/agency relationships these days: Advertisers do not lack the desire to build strong, productive relationships with their agency partners but they often fall short of it because they get trapped as a result of the complexity and weight associated with outdated, labor intensive processes that get in the way of great work. It often leads to the painful death of otherwise high-potential partnerships that never realize their full potential. It’s a tragedy, really. Like Charles held captive in beautiful castles throughout England for 25 long years, most organizations feel powerless and nonadept at identifying and overcoming the many roadblocks of their relationships.


Will you keep your valentine?


In my recent article, “Will You Conduct an Agency Review This Year?” I suggested that the trend of client reviews is unlikely to slow down and might actually accelerate. Advertisers are increasingly more demanding, putting great strain on their relationships with their agencies, often struggling to satisfy these demands and creating a flurry of performance issues. Issues are expected in any relationship. But if you are unable to diagnose those effectively, the relationship eventually erodes, along with trust. You hear a lot more “I love you not,” and soon after, putting the business for review becomes inevitable.


4 ways to build and maintain a lasting relationship with your client/agency partner


Successful brands do not happen accidentally. Thinking otherwise would be naïve. The ingredients are many. Perhaps one of the most critical is the ability to produce great work that fuels growth and builds brand equity. To produce great work requires careful collaboration between internal marketing teams and their agencies. It seems obvious, but nothing short of the absolute best synchronized collaboration may endanger the work, waste valuable resources and compromise productivity.


Over the years, we’ve seen relationships between clients and agencies flourish and others fail. The consequences on the quality and performance of marketing outcomes are severe. These Valentine Day-worthy relationships share the following:

1.  Conduct a formal evaluation annually:

No relationship can evolve without the commitment to provide and receive feedback. How to operationalize it might be daunting for large, complex, global organizations, but no matter the size of the advertiser, conducting a formal 360-degree evaluation ensures both teams will take the time to review the relationship and provide feedback on how to strengthen it or address existing challenges.

2.  Perform a light-touch assessment at mid-year:

Most companies conduct mid-year reviews for their employees. Why? Well, no one wants to wait for year end to find out that they failed to meet expectations and were not given the opportunity to address them. Mid-year is the perfect timing to get a pulse on how things are going and course correct if needed. To avoid survey fatigue, many advertisers choose to implement a lighter, simpler performance evaluation process, giving them what they need to take action without being too demanding.

3.  Focus on actionable insight:

I’ve seen clients drawn under endless reports, useless charts and scorecards that mean nothing to them. They are not data analysts and have plenty on their plate already. Clients and agencies do not need more reports. They want concise, actionable insight. They want to spend their valuable time reviewing the key highlights and what they mean. They want to rely on third-party expertise to dissect and extract that insight, without having to lose themselves in reports and charts, or having to learn how to use visualization software.

4.  Invest time in creating and working against thoughtful action plans:

If an advertiser is going to spend a few hours on the topic of client/agency performance, it will want to spend 95% of that time on making decisions about ways to improve or strengthen the relationship. I’ve personally never met a marketer or an agency that said it would rather spend more time on the operational aspect of conducting client/agency performance evaluations. I bet you haven’t either. Yet too often, the teams are left to conduct their own analysis instead of agreeing on what actions to take, who will do what when, and putting some measures in place to ensure these improvements get successfully implemented.


Valentine’s Day is the perfect reminder that even the best relationships require ongoing nurturing and are based on mutual accountability and a commitment to direct, respectful and actionable feedback. We owe it to ourselves and to those around us, as it speaks to whom we are and to what values we adhere to. Client/agency relationships rely on the same principles to prosper.

Don’t let yourself get trapped like Charles did over 600 years ago. If we are to learn from the past, advertisers who follow the four keys to client/agency relationship success shown above are the ones that outperform others in the marketplace. They hold themselves and their agencies accountable to greatness.


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