Do It Better: Brilliant work demands a strong client-agency relationship

I recently met a girl who worked in marketing at one of the UK’s leading charities. They’d just put out a great ad – simple, emotive, affecting – so I congratulated her on the work.

‘Well’, she said, ‘I don’t see my role as a client; I see it more as a creative commissioner.   I just want to bring the best people on board to do amazing creative work.’

That phrase – ‘creative commissioner’ – stuck with me. Probably because I’ve heard     so many people, from all kinds of agencies, taking a negative view on clients:           'suits', 'only interested in budgets', 'don’t understand creative'…

We all know that the best work comes from talented people in trusted client/agency relationships. As Creative Review put it: 'The quality and therefore effectiveness of work is simply down to the calibre of individuals who commission and approve it and the calibre of individuals who make it.’

At RY, we’re lucky to have close, long-term partnerships with lots of clients. But how often do you stumble on that kind of relationship? And how can you build one from scratch?

Here are four things we’ve picked up along the way…

1. Establish a common vision

Setting a clear, ambitious vision at the start of a project makes sure you’re both working towards the same thing. It also holds both sides to the same high standards – so you get the brilliant end product you wanted in the beginning.

2. Be honest

Unless it’s ‘wow, I love it!’, there’s always some anxiety around feedback. The clients don't want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The creatives want to protect the work. Account managers are stuck in the middle trying to keep everyone happy. The best way forward is to be transparent and, if it's bad, remember it’s not personal.

3. Be a team

It’s tempting to get all ‘Us vs. Them’ when things aren’t going stupendously well . But remember you’re one team trying to achieve the same thing. The client’s not an idiot who’s only interested in budget. The creatives aren’t Shoreditch wankers who wouldn’t know a strategy if it hit them in the face. Trust that people know what they’re doing and address any issues together.

4. Understand each other

Beyond KPIs, find out what each side wants to get out of the project. Does the agency just want revenue or do they see this as an chance to do award-winning, reputation-enhancing work? Does the client just want someone to take a job off their heavily-laden plate, or do they see this as a career-defining, promotion-inducing opportunity? Be clear at the beginning and you could avoid a lot of frustration later on.

Do these things and you could find your relationships get more productive. At the very least, you won't end up thinking, feeling and saying things like this lot in Campaign...

What agencies say about clients

  • "Procurement has become ever-present, driving down cost at the expense of time to deliver properly"
  • "We’re not getting paid for the true commercial value of our ideas" 
  • "They do not value us as much as they once did. Our relationships are weaker, shorter, with more and more pitching"

What clients say about agencies

  • "They are like nagging children; they have no awareness that they are only a small part of my role"
  • "Agencies should break up current operating models where account teams are gatekeepers to planning and creative. They need to think about how to innovate in how they service clients, be quicker and better at collaborating, think about offering up payment by results"
  • "I don’t think any of them have ever been into an Asda store; they shop at Whole Foods"