How To Better Client/Agency Relationships

Practical Advice Inspired By David Letterman's Top 10 Lists

By the time that David Letterman ended his reign as a late night talk show leader, he had shared more than 4,600 top 10 lists. During his 30 years on television, the topics changed to reflect what was happening in politics, sports, current events and pop culture. He developed quite a fan following for his lists because they often struck a chord (or in many cases, funny bone) with his audience.

While I was more of a “Tonight Show” fan, I loved the idea of a top 10 list. Maybe it’s because many of us in this profession are organized geeks who love the sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing things off our lists.

About 15 years ago when I was on the client side of our business, an outside consultant facilitated a work session between my company and our advertising agency at the time. This collaboration resulted in two top 10 lists – one for the client and one for the agency. It was a great exercise that also included the development of a contract of expectations.

As I evolved from working as a client to being an agency team member many years later, I found that this list was still as relevant as ever. While technology has forever changed the field of marketing and communications, these ten rules for client and agencies still ring true.

 Top 10 Rules for Agencies about Client Relationships
  1. See the relationship as something special you help create that’s beyond you or the client. It’s not “us” and “them.” It’s “we.”
  2. In close collaboration with your client, write a purposeful relationship mission.
  3. Make sure there’s a clear creative brief with each project. Assume nothing.
  4. Schedule and use regular reviews (whatever method you think will work best) to get the facts about how things are going.
  5. When there is room for improvement, see it as an opportunity to work together to enhance the relationship, not something to be “fixed.”
  6. Attitude is everything. Anytime you think there is a problem affecting you, the thought itself is the problem.
  7. No matter how late in the game or seemingly inappropriate, remember that client requests and changes spring from the noble intention of improving the final product.
  8. You can’t know too much about your client’s business, marketing objectives, cultural environment and motives.
  9. Difference is the beginning of synergy.
  10. If you get the intuitive tingle that something might be going wrong with the relationship, it probably is. Ask, then act.
Top 10 Rules for Clients about Agency Relationships
  1. Be specific about what you want, especially during review sessions. “I’ll know a good ad when I see it” just doesn’t work.
  2. Invest the time to collaborate on a relationship mission describing mutual expectations, roles and responsibilities. Time spent here will help eliminate weeks of frustration and save considerable money.
  3. Require creative briefs for projects. Write them collaboratively with the agency. Don’t build a house without blueprints.
  4. Avoid seeming arbitrary. Offer reasons and insights for mandatory changes.
  5. When you feel the urge to edit copy or art direct, remember that your primary responsibility is to provide marketing direction; the agency’s responsibility is to recommend communications strategies and tactics. Yes, you have the final say but use your gavel wisely. And rarely.
  6. A deteriorating relationship will not heal on its own. Speak up and ask for a meeting if you feel trust, communication or commitment are slipping.
  7. Listen thoroughly to all ideas, even those you think at first are crazy. Great ideas are often great because they’re innovative and startling.
  8. Respect the time it takes to get things done. Often the apparently easy turns out to be surprisingly difficult.
  9. Collaboration does not mean dictation.
  10. Trust the creative ideas your agency offers like newborn babies. They need nurturing and protection, but may grow up to be real prodigies.

Is there anything you would add or change about either list? If so, we would love to hear from you!

 

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