Unleash Greatness

Crafting A Successful Client/Agency Relationship

By Julie Barakat

When working with new clients—or restarting work with a client we haven’t worked with for a while—we’ve found that there are five key things that must happen in the first few months of working together to ensure success.

To create a successful client/agency relationship it’s essential to:

  1. Work together to set realistic expectations and identify reasonable goals.
  2. Be completely transparent about the partnership process.
  3. Communicate—a lot—especially in those first few weeks.
  4. Ask useful and relevant questions—starting with the kickoff and continuing throughout the relationship.
  5. Be willing to execute on smaller projects that that can add immediate value, while developing the bigger initiatives that will deliver longer term value.

If your current agency is not operating along these lines, you need to raise your expectations.

Creating successful outcomes hinges on not just the quality of the agency/client relationship but also on the quality of the process (the way we work together) to achieve your goals.

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

1: Set Realistic Expectations and Reasonable Goals

Hiring a marketing agency introduces a layer of unknowns, that if not handled properly, can add stress to an already stressed marekting department.

There could be pressure from managmenet to produce results, frustration with old marketing approaches, or outdated underperforming technology.

The last thing you need is for your new marketing agency to add to that stress.

To make our partnership “stress free”, we meet with the client’s team to discuss what they want to achieve and then lean on our experience in the manufacturing space to assess and meticulously define what those needs are.Only at that point are we ready to work together to set expectations (including priorities, timing, sequencing and budget) and commit to reasonable, attainable goals.

This process also generates information the marketing team needs to sell the idea through to the management.

2: Be Transparent About Our Process

The project planning process can vary widely from agency to agency so we think it’s vital that clients understand exactly how we plan to work with them.

We understand that most marketing directors are time constrained so rather than demanding a creative brief, we take an active role in project planning and development. In addition to helping to define the project, we work up realistic timelines for all projects and clearly delineate our role and the client’s role in all phases and components. The goal here is for the client to walk away with a crystal-clear understanding of what to expect during the project.

Part of our process involves introducing our team members and the roles they will play. We also let the client know why and when we’ll need certain team members from their end (i.e., marketing director, engineer, chemist, CEO, etc.). There is also a focus on timing so that the client has a chance to get the right people in place ahead of time.

Because of our experience, we also can tell you where you’re likely to run into obstacles that will lead to missed deadlines resulting in delayed launch dates. For example, when it comes to websites, even though we do a very detailed project plan that breaks down deliverables by week, and who is involved, clients underestimate how long their content creation piece is going to take. So knowing that, we can build in fail safes so the site goes live on time.

Process transparency helps avoid misunderstandings about what is in and out of scope and how we bill. Tranparency means the client understands where and how their budget will be spent and there are no surprises.

3: Communicate Constantly in The First Few Weeks

When it comes to client/agency partnerships we believe over-communication is better than under-communication. The first few weeks are critical, especially in a new relationship.

We want new clients to feel like a priority for us because they are! (Don’t worry existing clients. If you remember, we did this same thing with you, too!) We make it work for everyone.

We connect the client to their team, which is always composed of account, strategic, and creative roles. We introduce them to their dedicated account executive and main point of contact. It’s then the account executive’s responsibility to establish a clear communications framework, and identify a main point of contact for the client (usually a marketing manager).

Then, we take inventory. Does the client prefer to be communicated to via phone or email? Do they want a daily check-in? At this time, a weekly status meeting is established. This is our time to go through all projects and their stages, capture quick changes, confirm what is in whose court, and do some deadline awareness. The status meeting also gives the account executive and the client an opportunity to bring up any concerns or adjustments needed.

By maintaining a single point of contact, we also demonstrate that we are a team that communicates amongst each other. If something needs to be escalated to the strategic team, there is a process in place that ensures that will happen. Open communication is an integral part of the process and provides an opportunity for building relationships.

It makes the client feel comfortable that we’ve got everything under control.

4: Ask Informed and Useful Questions

Our Workshop offering provides a framework that we scale, structure and customize to fit each new client. As part of that process, we spend time with the marketing leader to get the “lay of the land”. We want to be sensitive to any politics in the room and understand who our internal champions are. We also address any fear about the creative process—assuring clients that what we are after is insights.

Harvesting this knowledge ahead of time enables us to redirect and improve workshop questions and avoid any dangerous areas. Our goal is to get everything out on the table and reassure marketing leadership that we are there to make them look better. Even though it can be humbling to get them to review everything first, we know that we’ll get stronger results together.

Our workshop is built on the foundation of asking useful and informed questions!

The other thing we do is an extensive amount of research that allows us to understand the client, what they do, and who they are. We ask questions to find out where the threats are in terms of competition and formulate questions around that. The goal of these questions is to start the process of getting leaders to talk about the business differently. Most know what they do and how they do it, but most are not connected to who they are as an organization and why they do what they do.

To safely provoke a new train of thought requires elegant techniques and powerful questions. It works because part of our process is to do the required homework to get smart enough to know just what to ask.

We want to understand their existing point of view well enough to competently challenge it.

We also probe deeply for examples of real life situations and encourage everyone to tell stories so that we can better understand what their culture is and what they are going through day to day.

In this way we can begin to help the client realize what makes them truly special.

The Workshop gets us all on the same page so that the results impact what we all do short and long term. It also produces the alignment, rapport and respect required to undertake and work efficiently together on huge initiatives that often take months to develop and execute.

5: Provide Immediate Value While Developing Long Term Initiatives

While we’d love to have a lot of runway on developing every client project, we know that is not realistic, especially at first. It’s also not what most client’s need. Typically, projects have been put on hold until an agency has been hired and once we are, the floodgates open! That’s where our industry expertise kicks in. Need a booth design for a tradeshow? As a partner, our feeling is that we need to be able to handle that and produce a respectable result based on our industry experience. It might not be as dialed in as it would be once the company’s specific point of view and messaging is pinned down, but it will be well within the ballpark and a marketable improvement.

In fact, ensuring that the client feels the value of having us aboard immediately is important to who we are as Crafted. We anticipate needs, we organize, we hold hands, we nurture and we help clients get stuff done the right way, so that they feel our investment in their success.

Insist on Excellence

Outstanding and effective creative is critical to the success of your marketing initiatives, but design chops are just one aspect of ensuring that outcome. So, the next time you are seeking to hire an agency to help propel your business forward, make sure they have the strength and confidence to manage your expectations and help you set reasonable goals. Get a handle on their project planning process and make sure it’s robust. (And if it is, then let them help you!) Insist on frequent communications at first and mandatory periodic status meetings going forward to make sure everyone is on the same page. Listen carefully to the questions the agency team asks—it will tell you how much, if any, homework has been done. Finally, don’t be afraid to push for some immediate smaller projects to generate some early wins.

Insist these five keys things be present in every agency relationship and watch the quality and effectiveness of the creative work—and more importantly the experience you have throughout the creative process —dramatically improve.

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