Keys to creating client/agency synergy.

As anyone in the world of branding agencies will tell you, finding a great client is challenging. And I’m talking about something much deeper than the proverbial revenue stream. A great client not only impacts the quality of the work developed, but also the overall motivation of the agency team.

Early in my career, I was told how packaged goods giant Procter and Gamble would send young brand managers to their agencies for a few months. They did so to work alongside their creative department, in order to better understand the challenges of the creative teams they would ultimately direct. The belief was these brand leaders would return to their posts as better clients. P&G felt that learning to be a great client was that important.

Similarly, I also believe agency-side staffers could learn a lot walking in the client’s shoes, to understand the pressures they face. It is ageless, primal empathy…and it makes both sides stronger. Our agency team is staunch in its philosophy that understanding our clients’ businesses is central to producing effective, relevant work. At the same time, inspiring and working collaboratively with a branding agency is an important part of a Brand Leader’s role.

Far too few do it well. But there is hope.

Tips To Get The Best Work From Your Agency Partner…

As stated earlier, the pressures facing Brand Leaders are many, and often skewed toward short-term results. We live in a world increasingly ruled by the all-powerful (but not always predictive) metric. This pressure alone can influence a Brand Leader to favor decisions that, in the long run, weaken a brand as much as they might affect the short term. The best client/agency partnerships are able to navigate and bridge this paradox while still achieving engagement goals in ways that are still ‘on-brand’. At MÉR Brand Solutions, we are fortunate to have found long-term client partners who thoroughly understand this balance. Here are some other things to keep in mind.

Beware the over-fashionable agency. In many cases, high-profile agencies are often more skilled at self-promotion than at increasing the profile of a client’s brand–especially in a highly-competitive, ever-changing marketplace. In short, hire with your head, not your ego. Just because an agency represents a high-profile brand you admire, doesn’t mean they’re best suited to your brand’s unique challenges. High-profile shops with a self-serving attitude often miss opportunities for your brand. They tend to be poor listeners, and believe you need them more than they need you. The irony is, the same superficial attraction commonly used in branding should not be something you are seduced by. You want results. You want depth. And you want your brand to be enduring, not the flavor of the month.

Think of your brand as a destination. Seek out a branding partner who can really create a balance of information and entertainment around your brand. Done correctly, your brand should become your target audience’s destination of choice, and should motivate them to beat a path to your brand and, in turn, increase its value. Hire a branding partner that knows how to make your brand part of the larger, more lasting culture. This is something we consider a prerequisite in clients we work with. Plenty of firms claim they can do this, so here’s a test: If their past work demonstrates they can think like your market and you connect with them as people, chances are your customers will respond to the work they do for you.

Never hire based on price. Getting financial types involved in choosing an agency partner is flawed. Instead, involve their input a different way–drafting creative compensation agreements that require the agency to share in the risk AND the reward. This way, they have ‘skin in the game’ in terms of their advice and skill set, while you share a reasonable portion of the results and rewards they generate. This will help assure they are swinging for the fences. But remember, this requires you to be a client willing to let them hold the bat.

Brand leaders are people leaders. The best brand leaders use their position to inspire and ‘infect’ everyone working on the brand with the desire to break new ground. In a way, they give everyone involved ‘permission’ to push the envelope–to not be inhibited, and to kick fear to the curb. To make this work in actual practice, the brand leader has to do more than just talk the talk. They need to be willing to take risks, to fight the internal battles, and to defend the best strategies and executions. As their partner, a branding agency needs to listen to them, understand and care about their product portfolios, coexisting agendas, and arrive at solutions that serve all objectives.

Take it seriously, but don’t. The worst thing for a client/agency partnership is the belief that results and productivity can only be achieved in an environment of fear and pressure. Unfortunately, some very successful people tend to believe this–despite the fact there is absolutely NO proof of it. In most cases, it is the result of how they were managed, and little more than the continuation of a cyclic, toxic management style. It is a poor, learned behavior and, worse, it stifles truly great ideas.

What there IS proof of, is that the most brilliant ideas more frequently happen in an uninhibited environment of, put simply, FUN. Solving “impossible” problems and breaking new ground is a product of passion–plain and simple. And all it requires is refusing to settle for less, and preserving an environment that fuels it.

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