How a client-agency relationship can enhance your career

Managing a relationship, whether personal or professional, is not easy and often reflects on the people involved. Good team leaders see their client-agency relationship as a career enhancing strategy.

Good team leadership is career enhancing strategy
What’s in it for you?

Perhaps one of the most challenging relationships to manage is that between a marketer and their communications agency. Why? Because unlike normal client-vendor relationships, where the product may be a physical item, in this case the end product is largely dependent on human creativity and innovation – which can be stimulated or suppressed depending on how people are managed and motivated.

So what’s in it for you?

With an already overloaded list of responsibilities to deal with, it’s reasonable to ask why you should invest time and effort into fostering strong client-agency relationships. What is your personal return on time invested?

In my view, managing the client-agency relationship is a test of leadership. Its importance deserves attention on the career resumé of any marketer or agency leader. That’s why good team leaders see their client-agency relationship as a career enhancing strategy. And why recruiters will want to know the details.

Getting priorities right

Given the size of marketing investments at play, the potential value-add from well-managed relationships should be a key metric. And the downside risks are enormous.

We should reframe client-agency partnerships – they’re not simply transactions leading to the development and placement of marketing communications, but are crucial assets that can propel your career forward if they’re nurtured properly.

Clients get the agencies they deserve

Borrowing from a famous David Ogilvy quote (see below), clients get the agencies they deserve. If that sounds like a double-edged sword, it’s because it is.

The chart below plots scores given by clients and agencies of each other in more than 26,000 evaluations we’ve conducted. There is a clear correlation between these two scores.

Clients get the agencies they deserve

As one party in a relationship improves, so does the other. The red and green clusters indicate the bottom and top 10% of relationships in our database. This shows a clear interdependence between the performance of marketing teams and their agencies. Not surprising, really. The best clients work with the best agencies, and the reverse is also true.

While both parties must fully engage in the constant re-evaluation and improvement of the relationship, the paying client (marketer) has a greater influence over the direction of the relationship.

If you’re wondering about how to be a better client, read our article here.

‘Clients get the advertising they deserve’

This is Ogilvy’s original quote, penned in the 1960s but still true today. Aprais set out to test this by analysing over 1,800 winners of effectiveness awards world-wide from the WARC Effective100. We matched winners with evaluations we had conducted of the same client-agency teams and compared those award-winning team evaluation scores with our large database.

Award-winners have better client-agency relationships
Click to download our free report

Our analysis clearly showed conclusively that the award-winning teams had stronger relationships than the average. So, Mr Ogilvy, you were right. Clients who know how to work better with their agencies produce more effective work. Download our report

It’s about marketing leadership

Being a successful marketer or agency person is about more than data, creativity and innovation; it’s about leadership. And the health of the relationship between a client and agency is a direct – and sometimes very public – reflection of leadership, particularly when things go awry.

Of course, all this assumes that the agency deserves love and affection. In many cases, agencies fail and need to be corrected. For the sake of this piece, however, let’s assume the agency is competent.

Resisting the ‘new broom sweeps clean’ syndrome

Agencies often brace themselves when a new CMO joins their client organisation. The new entrant may carry preferences, prejudices and strong relationships accumulated over their career. They may want to demonstrate ‘who’s in charge’ by initiating an agency review. Unless it’s completely justified, this can cause enormous disruption and cost for all parties, plus the risk of losing valuable learning accumulated over the course of the partnership.

A celebrated marketing columnist referenced this in an article about brand distinctiveness and differentiation. Writing about Nestlé brand KitKat in Marketing Week, he said, “It’s that the brand has been doing both (distinctiveness and differentiation) without any major change, rebrand or new campaign for half a century”.

As we often say, it’s better to ‘repair than to replace’ a client-agency relationship (and a hell of a lot cheaper). What’s more, just as in marriage, unless we change our fundamental behaviour, the same problems will recur with the next partner.

How stronger client-agency relationships can enhance your career

Here are seven ways in which your career can benefit from fostering a better relationship with your agency. You’ll see it’s not just about performance metrics – it’s also about the quality of life for yourself and your team members.

1. Enhanced efficiency and productivity

A good relationship between clients and agencies means efficient communication and streamlined workflows. This includes clearer briefs, faster approvals and smoother feedback loops, which lead to quicker project turnaround times. By delivering campaigns promptly and effectively, you demonstrate your ability to execute tasks with precision, thus elevating your reputation as a reliable marketer.

2. Increased ROI and revenue growth

As illustrated above, better relationships often translate into more impactful campaigns, resulting in a higher return on investment (ROI). By consistently delivering successful campaigns, you demonstrate your value within your organisation. Your ability to contribute to the bottom line becomes evident, paving the way for career advancement opportunities.

3. Enhanced creativity and innovation

Strong client-agency relationships foster an environment conducive to creativity and innovation. By nurturing this partnership, you open doors to ground-breaking campaigns that set you apart as a visionary marketer, enhancing your professional brand and marketability.

4. Improved reputation and brand perception

People like to work with people they like. Collaborating closely with agencies elevates not only your brand’s reputation but also your personal reputation within the industry. As your portfolio of successful campaigns grows, so does your perceived expertise and credibility as a marketing professional. This enhanced reputation can lead to new career opportunities and industry recognition. Don’t you want to be known as being wonderful to work with in addition to being highly effective and successful?

5. Expanded network and industry connections

Cultivating strong relationships with agency partners exposes you to a wider network of industry professionals. Through networking events, conferences and collaborative projects, you can forge valuable connections that advance your career. These connections may lead to job referrals, mentorship opportunities or strategic partnerships, further accelerating your professional growth.

6. Lower staff turnover and positive references

Staff turnover is the bane of our industry, and a revolving door of team members can reflect poorly on your leadership. Team leadership built on trust, transparency and mutual respect is likely to increase loyalty on both sides of the client-agency relationship. Furthermore, happy and respectful team members are more likely to provide positive testimonials and referrals, when it comes time to move on.

7. Greater job satisfaction and work-life balance

Last but not least, nurturing strong client-agency relationships contributes to a positive work environment. Happy teams are more productive, creative and resilient in the face of challenges. By fostering a culture of collaboration and mutual support, you enhance your own job satisfaction and promote a healthy work-life balance, leading to greater overall happiness and fulfillment in your career and in those around you.

A career enhancing strategic advantage

In a marketing world obsessed by data and metrics, sometimes the softer, human elements are given lower priority. Yet team leaders can magnify their effect through more proactive leadership of their client-agency relationship.

Investing time and effort in nurturing better client-agency relationships provides a career enhancing strategic advantage. It can be a transformative demonstration of your team leadership skills. By leveraging agency partnerships alongside internal teams, you position yourself as a dynamic and influential leader who knows how to achieve optimum performance from your teams.