Discover the Seven Secrets Behind the World’s Most Successful Client/Agency Relationships and What They Share in Common

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Here’s to the crazy ones. The round pegs in the square holes.

Transcript: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Apple 1997 “Think Different” Advertisement

We’ve all been inspired by this campaign. American boxer and three-time World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali is one of the many crazy ones who dares to think different. In its iconic “Think Different” advertising spot that first aired on Sept. 28, 1997, Apple featured black and white video footage of significant historical people of the past, including Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Branson, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Thomas Edison, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Gandhi, Alfred Hitchcock, Martha Graham, Jim Henson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso and many others.


We wonder how a piece of fruit with a bite mark became the world’s most famous brand and the most valued company of all time. In 1997, Apple was nothing close to the company it is now. Apple was then considered to be in a crisis. The 1997 “Think Different” ad campaign was one of the company’s major turning points. The company needed a new statement as Steve Jobs returned to lead it. This campaign presented a company that dared to think different and invited others to celebrate that uniqueness.


It’s undeniable that Apple created amazing advertisements over the years. Its success has much to do with the successful partnership between the company and its brilliant advertising agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day. In a video series by TBWA\Chiat\Day and Adweek Minute, Lee Clow shares why clients need to become real partners to their agencies and provides valuable insight into the TBWA\Chiat\Day and Apple relationship under Steve Jobs’s leadership. It resonated with me because I’d had the pleasure to work with my friend Neal Grossman and the hugely talented TBWA\Chiat\Day team as the lead creative agency on the Visa account.


I often get asked by large brand advertisers what the key ingredients are of a successful partnership like the one between Apple and TBWA\Chiat\Day. Can these lessons learned be applied to other client/agency relationships?

The DNA of a successful partnership:

Can you tell the difference between a vendor relationship and a business partnership? How do you build a strong partnership with your agency or your client? Spending nearly two decades evaluating business relationships with the goal to improve them or yield better value has helped us identify the most common ingredients of a successful partnership between a brand advertiser and its agencies:


  1. Provoking and demanding: Good clients and agencies expect this. These qualities foster strong bonds and help deliver better work. No doubt, TBWA’s Lee Clow met the most demanding and thought-provoking client in Steve Jobs. Steve reportedly only gave the agency 17 days to launch the entire campaign — TV commercial and billboards included. Not long enough for most agencies to even secure the rights to the images. When you expect more, you get more. Good enough is never enough. And it goes both ways.
  1. Adaptive, responsive and culturally compatible: Having the right culture fit is critical to having both organizations come together and work together effectively. Even as CEO of Apple, Jobs met weekly with its agency partner TBWA. Both clients and agencies must be responsive to each other, invest the time required, collaborate well with all their internal and external partners and adapt rapidly as circumstances or needs change.
  1. Reciprocal passion and chemistry: Client and agency leadership needs to genuinely share a common passion for their respective mission and purpose. And people need to like each other, especially under pressure, which is inevitable. Lee Clow and Steve Jobs’s relationship was based on a real friendship that ultimately helped them produce award-wining work. There is a reason why chemistry is such an important part of any search process. If it’s not there, the relationship will ultimately fail.
  1. Trust and transparency, commitment to feedback/open dialog: No relationship can be built and flourish without absolute trust. Trust comes from full transparency — about client priorities, agency finances and more — and can only be earned over time. So being committed to providing feedback and having open dialogs about any topic that might get in the way of the work or the relationship are essential to building good will that translates into outstanding performance.
  1. Nonconformist, strategy and critical thinking: Clients want and need critical thinkers in their agencies who will challenge the status quo, never cease to ask “why” and push clients outside of their comfort zone. This requires the agency to bring strategic ideas to the table and act as a trusted adviser from the offset. Conversely, agencies want clients that will clearly articulate their strategic direction, challenges and priorities and are willing to think outside the box.
  1. Expertise and executional excellence: When it’s time to produce, the work must be impeccable and demonstrate the domain expertise of the agency in a particular functional discipline (creative, media, PR, social, etc.) or industry category. Clients must also institute streamlined processes for the work to flow internally and to allow for effective and timely decisions.
  1. Resourceful, collaborative and innovative: Being innovative, finding creative solutions to complex challenges and being resourceful are essential qualities that set apart the mediocre from the most brilliant in any business relationship. This is particularly true in a client/agency partnership that is destined to produce outstanding work.

Are you building the type of partnership that will leave a mark?

The “Think Different” commercial ends with this voice over: “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do” and with an image of a young girl opening her closed eyes, as if to see the possibilities before her.

While the industry is keeping tabs on the countless agency reviews and the revolving door of agencies coming in and out of the client’s roster, we have to ask ourselves the million dollar questions: Are we thinking different? Are we treating agencies as vendors or pursuing true business partnerships that will move our business forward?

Looking back, it’s fair to say that Clow and Jobs set new standards for what two companies can accomplish together when they chose to become long-term partners and produce amazing work. Open your eyes to the possibilities these best practices bring and follow these principles so you too can realize the transformational value and business performance a well-managed partnership can bring to your marketing efforts. And leave your mark as Clow and Jobs did.