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5 Qualities for a Healthy Client/Agency Relationship

A relationship, by any other name, would be just as much work. Shakespeare said something to that effect, I’m pretty sure. While you won’t see ‘relationship management’ under our list of services, it is something we work on every single day. Relationships, whether between two people in love, friends, coworkers, or business partners, all adhere to mostly the same principles. Reflecting on these common qualities that make up the core workings of relationships, we’ve turned to those we know and work with, here at Red Door, other agencies, and of course our clients, to speak to the makings of a healthy client/agency relationship.

Goals and Expectations

Any relationship starts with two (or more) individuals or teams who are each entering the conversation with their own goals and intentions. It’s no coincidence we’re starting this list with the concept of goals and expectations, because realistically this is where it all starts – or where it should at least. In 2016, SoDA & Forrester published their report on the state of agency-client relationships which noted that 53% of those surveyed agreed that brands and agencies’ relationships were improving, a significant decrease from the 70% reported the year prior. The report also mentions the misalignment in what clients value most versus what agencies value most. These differences can create a sloped foundation for the relationship to be built on which is why it’s absolutely paramount that the initial conversations (as well as ongoing ones) consult the primary issue: What are your goals? What do you want to accomplish together?

In having this conversation, the agency is not trying to sell themselves or their brand, they’re actively listening to the needs of the client and offering their solutions. The client is just as active a participant, in that they’re vulnerable and open about their needs, as well as flexible enough to allow the agency to own exploring and creating solutions.

Once we start talking, we can hone in our goals to be clear, in the best interest of the client, and doable by the agency. Only then can we best discuss appropriate compensation. As Misti Cain, Founder & Chief Advyzzor at Whyzze puts it, "The client/agency relationship is all about being SMART. And by that I mean, both the client and agency have chosen, agreed upon, and are constantly working toward goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based. If campaign or project goals haven't been outlined, your chances for success - along with a positive, long-term relationship - are fairly slim."

Understanding and Transparency

Now that we have our goals set, we have a better understanding of our client and their needs. But for a truly healthy relationship, it is also necessary that our client have the same understanding of the agency. Clients want to know methodologies and motivations behind the actions of the agency, and with good reason. The agency’s main objective should be to problem solve and navigate the client through those solutions.

Red Door’s own Heather Molina, Director of SEO and Paid Media, puts it as such: “We are focused on helping our client partners understand how to navigate the complex landscape, especially when it comes to digital advertising and technology.” And in that role, the agency must offer transparency regarding their methods and motives. Molina goes on to say, “Transparency in understanding how every dollar they give us is working for them across all technologies, media partners, and agency fees is a huge priority. There's too much potential for 'leakage' with such a complex landscape. So we are vigilant about showing everything, and won't utilize a technology or media partner that doesn't allow the transparency for our clients' investments.” It obviously goes to say that this willingness to accept and give honest, clear feedback is not only important in one aspect of marketing, but in the whole client/agency partnership. ASICS' Dinasha Cellura notes, "We couldn't have come this far in our partnership without the openness to candid feedback, undying passion and energy, and a genuine fondness of working together toward reaching a shared goal."

Communication and Honesty

There’s definitely a pattern across these qualities, but it’s really like they’re building off of one another. Communication takes understanding to the next level by taking statements and turning them into a conversation. This is a conversation that should be happening through the entirety of not only the project timeline, but also the duration of the relationship. Additionally, there should be a big red flag around taking a client request and running with it, only tuning back in to deliver what was assumed as the final product. The request could be misinterpreted, or even be changed, or the team could run with it in a direction not aligned with the client’s vision. Check-ins, reviews and revisions CAN be your friend, as long as upfront honest conversations are taking place, to help set the expectations of the client.

Jeremy Stone, Director of Marketing over at Vokey Wedges, Titleist offers his perspective as this: “We have found the key to a great agency relationship is transparent communication. This ranges from clearly identifying objectives before a project begins, to constant & ongoing communication about progress within a project. It sounds easy, and when news is good it is. However, a foundation of trust allows for sharing bad news such as delays or constraints effectively and results in a collaborative solution.”

Trust

An underlying theme through the other qualities gravitates toward the concept of trust. In a way, it’s a core component of any healthy relationship, and when absent can show itself in the most unfortunate of ways. By establishing an honest and communicative repertoire, trust can be fostered. This trust leads to honest conversations, realistic goal setting, and ultimately more free reign for the agency to stretch their creative legs and offer solutions beyond the usual routine. Trust can make or break any relationship. Art O’Neal, Sr. Director of Marketing at NuVasive Specialized Orthopedics, echoes this by saying, “When teaming up with another organization that has expertise in an area that you do not, establishing trust and developing a relationship that includes clear, open and constructive communication is so important as is successfully dealing with unexpected change and ultimately creating a result that exceeds expectations, is within budget and on time.”

Establishing this trust can elevate the relationship as well as the opinion of the agency in the client’s eyes. O’Neal notes on our own relationship, “An experience such as this is not common and it has been our experience with the Red Door team. They not only want to create a fine result in order to exceed the expectations of their customer, they care about who we are serving, our customers, and helped us learn more about what our customers really need to know and how to get that information to them and ultimately creating something even better than we originally envisioned. It is in their DNA as they truly care, they have true expertise and they own it with us.”

Respect and Empathy

We’ve set our goals, begun to understand each other, started a conversation, and garnered trust. These lead us to our final healthy relationship quality: respect. Respect is not to be assumed just because we’ve laid our foundation. It exists because we not only know each other, but because we trust each other and understand our roles in this relationship. No one puts it into words better than Red Door’s own Zach Leffers, Strategic Planner – “A healthy agency/client relationship boils down to respect. We're all smart cookies, and if both sides approach each other with that mutual understanding we can work together."

Your work life can take up a pretty sizable chunk of your life, so why not make the best out of those relationships? It will only work in everyone’s favor and could potentially lead to bigger and better opportunities.

If you’ve got any key relationship factors that we missed, drop us a comment below or tweet us @reddoor. XOXO

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