The power of longevity in business relationships

New research shows that clients and agencies believe longevity drives stronger brand performance, creativity and positively impacts agency staff retention.

A few months ago, the Queen of England celebrated an extraordinary 70-years on the throne. We took that opportunity to write about the importance of longevity in business relationships. Little did we know that in the same month, on the other side of the planet, some interesting research was being conducted on the same subject.

The Australian arm of Spark Foundry – a global media agency brand within Publicis Media conducted research to better understand the benefits of longevity in business relationships.

The qualitative and quantitative study, “In it for the Long Haul? The Parallels of Client Relationship Tenure with Brand Performance”, saw over 100 ANZ agency and marketing professionals across all disciplines and major industry verticals surveyed. Interviews were also conducted with consultants specializing in client and agency relationships.

According to Spark Foundry’s National Head of Strategy, Anna Cherry the study arrived at three main conclusions.

1. Enduring partnerships create greater efficiency and effectiveness
According to the authors; the research shows there is a collective belief that longevity in business relationships create greater effectiveness and efficiency. Additionally, 74% of all respondents agree or strongly agree that greater longevity generates greater trust at a C-suite level.

2. Creativity and innovation flourish in longer term relationships:
The majority of agencies (62%) and marketers (61%) agree that longer-lasting relationships generate greater creativity and innovation.

Qualitative feedback revealed that trust is what gives agencies the ‘creative capital’ to take calculated risks. Longevity in business relationships breeds trust and understanding.

3. Long-term relationships aid in staff retention: A perennial challenge for agencies and marketers is staff retention. When there is a high turnover of account representatives, it can reduce engagement between the agency and client.

Retaining the best people to work on the business is a collective responsibility on both sides of the relationship.


… while marketers don’t see agency tenure as a pillar for their own retention strategies, turnover within agencies plays a fundamental role in the job satisfaction of marketing staff”.

Anna Cherry – National Head of Strategy Spark Foundry Australia.
Improvement with time

When it comes to business relationships, Aprais data (covering over 25,000 client-agency evaluations) clearly shows that longevity can be an indicator of a productive relationship. The chart below shows the improvements in evaluation scores of each party over successive evaluations covering 5 years and more.

The CEO of Spark Foundry for Australia and new Zealand, Imogen Hewitt concluded: “Enduring relationships create the conditions for alignment, empathy and trust which in turn breeds innovation and better business performance”.

A cautionary word

The research highlights a continuing disconnect between participants’ beliefs that long-term partnerships unlock disproportionate value, versus their behaviours – the continued frequency of pitching.

The ‘pitch ‘n shift’ mentality that pervades the marketing industry is largely unproductive. It exacts a toll on both parties. It disregards the valuable accumulated knowledge between teams, often on a whim or driven by questionable procurement insistence on periodic reviews.

Longevity builds trust

Our analysis of the relationships shows that when agencies score their clients trust remains the most-valued among the seven behaviors we track, and it continues to increase in importance. But clients scores of agencies on the trust behavior are declining.

Trust in relationships is under threat in our business. This key issue for client-agency relationship longevity is brought into sharp focus by an out-take from the Spark Foundry research; “trust is what gives agencies the ‘creative capital’ to take calculated risks – which is how innovation is born. Long-term relationships breed trust and understanding, and when you understand each other, you remove the risk from the situation.”