Unleashing the power of true partnership
Nine months ago I set up my own business. My career thus far has been devoted to working for agencies, with a brief sashay over to a trade body. Having built exceptional relationships with clients, agencies and other industry folk during that time, I have always valued the power of true partnership above all else.
Three months into 2017, I want to reflect on some of the challenges the industry is facing when it comes to developing brilliant, and long-term client/agency partnerships. But it’s not all doom and gloom, because I believe there are some simple steps we can take to turn them on their heads and come out smiling.
1. The adoption of technology
Technology is brilliant. It connects people around the world and means we can do business 24 hours a day if we so desire. It has also strengthened the global economy. But it has a dark side too. We hide behind it, and instead of meeting up or picking up the phone to a client, or walking over to someone’s desk (!) we revert to email or instant messenger. We sit at our laptops in meetings and play with our phones, desperate to keep on top of things. Little do we realise that our behaviour is having an increasingly detrimental effect on our relationships with clients and in fact, each other.
Step #1 - Get out and about, and spend quality time with each other, without phones. Take time to get to know your clients and colleagues. Understand what keeps them up at night and find a way to help them. A problem shared and all that.
2. Project Management vs. Account Management
This is particularly prevalent in digital, where projects can be complex and require more than a basic grasp of the technology being used. Which is where project managers come in. It is their role to ensure that high quality work is delivered on time and on budget. Many clients aren’t prepared to pay for both account and project management, seeing the roles as overlapping. The challenge here is that with a PM’s focus being on delivery, they often play bad cop, and if there is no account manager building the relationship with the client with a long-term mind-set, you can come unstuck. Add to that the rise in the ‘yes man’ account person, and you are in all sorts of trouble because clients just don’t see the value. And quite rightly. I believe there is a role for both, and clients are better off when they invest, as long as they are being challenged in the right way by their agency. Once of my former PM colleagues described it perfectly as 'the friendliest battle'.
Step #2 - If you are a PM, work in partnership with your AM, finding the right balance of skills for your client. If you are an AM, always bring something to the table. Have an opinion, ensure you understand your client’s business and challenge them to take the odd (calculated) risk. If you are a client, respect the differences between the roles and the value they bring.
3. The proliferation of marketing channels
With the explosion of marketing channels has come a rise in agencies (around 25,000 in the UK alone). This means that there are more agencies competing for the same work. This is a massive pain in the proverbial for clients who constantly feel they are being sold to. It is equally a pain in the proverbial for agencies who are having to pitch more, for sometimes tiny projects, and whose margins are shrinking.
Step #3 - Agencies, agree realistic qualification criteria when pitching – if you are going to lose money, walk away. Clients, try to avoid running pitches for small pieces of work. You usually know which agencies will cut the mustard, so give them a chance to perform. And if they don’t, find another.
The rise of the in-house agency
With more clients taking work in house, agencies are under additional pressure. The fear of losing work and revenue breeds a culture of distrust and cynicism. But rather than taking the time to understand where their true value lies, they moan about how clients are doing a rubbish job when they take work in house. I recently interviewed ten senior clients, and their belief (unanimously might I add) was that agencies provide a fresh perspective, objectivity, creativity and many skills they don’t (and won’t) possess in-house.
Step #4 - Focus on where your agency can make a difference in your client’s world, and genuinely add value. And clients, don’t pitch agencies against your in-house team as it will only end in resentment.
And a final thought from me ...
We are all humans. We know how we would like to be treated, so let's give people the respect they deserve. And after running a workshop recently (Thanks @WonderlandComms) which solicited the feedback, 'Thank you from the bottom of our hearts', I am sticking to my guns. I believe relationships should be nurtured, and true partnerships are built over time.