Like many other things in advertising now-a-days, we are made to believe that a great client-agency partnership is a thing of past. This is far from the truth. Like there are good marriages and bad marriages, now, as were earlier, similarly there are good client-agency relationshipsand bad client-agency relationships today, as there were earlier. There are a few principles about this relationship that I have learnt. Here they are:
1. We are each other’s muse – Many clients feel that it’s the agency’s job to keep them excited and entertained. The best client relationships that I have had are the ones in which we have been each other’s muse. The onus of keeping the spark going is on both the sides.
2. Beware of the client who doesn’t order lunch in lunch-time meetings – This is not really about the lunch, but about how much care there is in the relationship. No great partnership can flourish unless you have each other’s back. It’s not for no reason that breaking bread together is an age-old ritual of building relationships.
3. Making each other look good – No one wakes up in the morning with a determination to fail or do bad work. Most clients have careers which they want to nurture and get successful at. Most agency people want to do good work, be appreciated and win awards. There indeed is a common ground in this relationship. The trick is in believing in this and making sure that we do the work that makes both successful.
4. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus – While there’s common ground of both seeking success, there is a departure in how the two inherently want to achieve this. Clients are paid to build safety around outcomes – to ensure that sales would grow better than they did before the campaign, for example. The agency however, sees its reward in the unpredictability of the idea, to be safe in the agency world is a sin. Can you sell risky ideas as the path to safe outcomes? That’s where the relationship matters, so do your selling skills.
5. The chase versus the relationship – There will always be people in the world who like the thrill of the chase better than the comfort of the relationship. There will always be clients who like pitches better than partnerships. Pitches are like dating games that keep the agency alive and energetic. But for any long-term impact, dating games must settle into a meaningful relationship.
6. Say it like you would –You thought you go through a lot during your day, guess what, so does your client. A client-friend once told me, marketing can be a lonely job, especially if you aren’t in a marketing-led company. So call up once in while just to ask, how was your day? Similarly, if you have felt cheated or have given your life and blood for your client and haven’t got a faint recognition for it, let it be known. The bedrock of any good relationship is brutal honesty. Pick up the phone this Valentines day and say it like you would!
(Dheeraj Sinha is chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett, South Asia and is the author of Consumer India and India Reloaded. This is the first time he has written an agony-aunt column.)