Are Clients from Mars and Agencies from Venus?

April 1, 2016

By Joanne Davis, ANA Faculty

Do you ever wonder if you are in the same solar system as your agency?

Did they listen to what we said?

Do they listen without hearing?

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that client-agency relationships are a two-way street. If you had a problem with your last two agencies, maybe the problem is on your company’s side. Clients who know how to properly lead agencies get the best agencies and the best work. Meanwhile, clients who don’t understand agencies fail to get the best results, or even passable results. 

Fortunately, effective agency leadership is not an innate skill. Anyone can learn to be a better agency client. Understanding how to do this begins with what I call the “Five P’s of agency management.” They are as follows:

  • People. Just like on the client side, not all agency people are A players. Be sure you have smart, fluent, creative people on the client side responsible for leading the agency relationship, and you’ll get more than your share of the A team.
  • Partnership. Treat your agency as a valued business partner, not a commodity vendor. Share problems, business goals, frustrations, fears, and your own internal research. Don’t waste time by making them guess.
  • Push. Clients that push agencies for brilliance instead of safe understand the balance of high risk and high reward. Every client we know says they want “big ideas.” Never heard one say they want a “small idea.” The best clients know how to inspire greatness.
  • Profit. Just as your company is in business to make a profit, the agencies are too. Learn about their business practices. If you have limited financial resources, determine what you can sacrifice so your budget is used most effectively.
  • Practice. Working with agencies effectively isn’t “one and done.” It’s an ongoing, symbiotic relationship.  

Joanne has been an agency president, a client-side CMO, and a consultant. She has taught thousands of marketers and procurement executives and has written books on the subject of client agency management. At her upcoming ANA Workshop, Joanne will teach attendees how to get the most from their agencies.


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