I love you. I love you not.

February 14, 2017

By Bruno Gralpois, ANA Faculty

Why advertisers and agencies should improve how they work together to maintain a healthy, loving and productive relationship

Happy Valentine's Day. The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by French nobleman and medieval poet Charles, Duke of Orléans (1394–1465), to his wife, while he was held in the Tower of London following his capture. He wrote:

"Je suis deja d'amour tanné, Ma tres douce Valentinée..." (read: something very romantic in French.)

Charles was captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 while trapped under a pile of corpses, after falling to the ground and being incapacitated by the weight of his own armor. It's hard not to draw a parallel between Charles' story and the current state of client/agency relationships: Advertisers do not lack the desire to build strong, productive relationships with their agency partners, but they often fall short because they get trapped by the complexity and weight of outdated, labor intensive processes that get in the way of great work. It often leads to the painful death of otherwise high-potential partnerships. Like Charles held captive in beautiful castles throughout England for 25 long years, most organizations feel powerless and inept at identifying and overcoming the many roadblocks of their relationships.

In my recent article, "Will You Conduct an Agency Review This Year?" I suggested that the trend of client reviews is unlikely to slow down and might actually accelerate. Advertisers are increasingly more demanding, creating a flurry of performance issues and putting great strain on their relationships with their agencies, who often struggle to satisfy these demands. Issues are expected in any relationship, but if you are unable to diagnose those effectively, the relationship — and trust — eventually erode. You hear a lot more "I love you not," and putting the business up for review becomes inevitable.


4 ways to build and maintain a lasting relationship with your client/agency partner
Successful brands do not happen accidentally. Thinking otherwise would be naïve. Perhaps one of the most critical ingredients is the ability to produce great work that fuels growth and builds brand equity. Producing great work requires careful collaboration between internal marketing teams and their agencies. It seems obvious, but nothing short of the best-synchronized collaboration may endanger the work, waste valuable resources, and compromise productivity.

Over the years, we've seen relationships between clients and agencies flourish and fail. The consequences on the quality and performance of marketing outcomes are severe. The Valentine's Day-worthy relationships share the following:

  1. Conduct a formal evaluation annually: No relationship can evolve without the commitment to provide and receive feedback. Operationalizing it might be daunting for large, complex global organizations, but regardless of size, conducting a formal 360-degree evaluation ensures both teams will take the time to review the relationship and provide feedback on how to strengthen it or address existing challenges. 
  2. Perform a light-touch assessment mid-year: Most companies conduct mid-year reviews for their employees. No one wants to wait for year end to find out that they failed to meet expectations and were not given the opportunity to address them. Mid-year is the perfect time to get a pulse on how things are going and course correct if needed. To avoid survey fatigue, many advertisers choose to implement a lighter, simpler performance evaluation process, giving them what they need to take action without being too demanding.
  3. Focus on actionable insight: I've seen clients drawn under endless reports, useless charts, and scorecards that mean nothing to them. They are not data analysts and have plenty on their plate already. Clients and agencies do not need more reports. They want concise, actionable insight. They want to spend their valuable time reviewing key highlights and what they mean. They want to rely on third-party expertise to dissect and extract that insight, without having to lose themselves in reports and charts, or having to learn how to use visualization software.
  4. Invest time in creating and working against thoughtful action plans: If an advertiser is going to spend a few hours on the topic of client/agency performance, it will want to spend 95% of that time making decisions about ways to improve or strengthen the relationship. I've personally never met a marketer or an agency that said it would rather spend more time on the operational aspect of conducting client/agency performance evaluations. Yet too often, teams are left to conduct their own analysis instead of agreeing on what actions to take, who will do what when, and putting measures in place to ensure improvements get successfully implemented.

Valentine's Day is the perfect reminder that even the best relationships require ongoing nurturing and are based on mutual accountability and a commitment to direct, respectful, and actionable feedback. We owe it to ourselves and to those around us, as it speaks to who we are and to what values we adhere. Client/agency relationships rely on the same principles to prosper.

Don't let yourself get trapped like Charles did over 600 years ago. If we are to learn from the past, advertisers who follow these four keys to client/agency relationship success are the ones that outperform others in the marketplace.


Bruno Gralpois is the co-founder of Agency Mania Solutions, a premier service and technology firm providing automation (SaaS) and professional services that produce consistently higher outcomes along every step of the agency management continuum. He is the author of best-seller "Agency Mania," the former chair of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Client/Agency Committee, and a faculty member of the ANA School of Marketing.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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