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
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.