Longevity is not necessarily an indicator of a healthy relationship but it’s something clients and agencies should strive for.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee marked a 70-year relationship between the monarch and the public she serves – or who serve her, depending on how you look at it. Regardless of individual feelings about monarchy and power structures, there is no denying a relationship that has lasted well over half a century is worthy of note. Not only because the public itself has lived with and under her reign without challenging it, but also because of her own propensity to remain and refusal to abdicate despite having more than one ready successor.
Longevity in business relationships
When it comes to business relationships, our data clearly shows that longevity can be an indicator of a productive relationships. 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.
Furthermore, over the 20+ years we have been evaluating team relationships, we’ve found that unless there is a fundamental change in the behaviour of the client (in particular), eventually the same old problems will recur. As much as we believe in equality in the client-agency relationship dynamic, ultimately the client pays the bill, so the client is in the driving seat. In essence, clients get the agencies they deserve.
“Clients get the agencies they deserve”Aprais
Avoiding the breakdown
Not surprisingly, we also find that through a process of six-monthly evaluations, satisfaction scores within the relationship increase. Which means once the honeymoon period is over and both parties settle down to the serious business of getting to work, it’s both realistic and reasonable to expect relationships to improve over time.
In the case of the Queen, whilst the general public would of course seize any excuse for a holiday and a party, it would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between her length of service and the volume and sentiment of the celebrations.
While we don’t have data to substantiate this point, at Aprais holds data on more than 24,000 client-agency evaluations across the globe. Mining this data for trends and patterns helps us discover the secrets of longevity in relationships – and how to improve team performance.
The Queen hasn’t achieved this longevity without her challenges and no good relationship is defined by lack of challenge, in fact our data clearly shows the best business relationships are characterised by a willingness to challenge the status quo and the weakest, by a reluctance to do so. Among the lowest-scoring agencies and clients in our dataset, while all attributes score poorly, challenge is the behavior that most notably lags behind.
Why relationships fail
Client-agency relationships can break down for many reasons. Changes in staff, changes in scope of work, a new business environment or a new direction for the company can all destabilise the relationship, on both sides.
Sometimes, there is no concrete reason and making the call that the relationship is failing is subjective. Undetected or unacknowledged small changes can lead to deeper and more fundamental problems in the long-term. These are usually expressed as frustrations on both sides, leading to a breakdown in communication and a decision to part company, whether mutual or one-sided.
At this stage, relationships can still be saved but this requires regular check-ins to gauge the health of the relationship and address any issues. A process of checking in helps identify the core issue. At Aprais we have witnessed failing relationships turn around, but it’s essential that both parties support the process. The benefits to both client and agency are clear, in that they avoid an expensive and time-consuming pitch process and having to start again at the beginning, laying the groundwork and building mutual trust, understanding and direction.
Much as in marriage counselling the preferred option is always to save the relationship over starting anew, because often clients and agencies will take their previous mistakes into new relationships, finding after the initial novelty wears off the same old issues continue to crop up. In any relationship, there is rarely only one party at fault. Longevity requires adaptation and compromise.
Setting up to succeed
The secrets to longevity in relationships aren’t all that complicated, but they do need a commitment from both parties. Nobody can carry or save a relationship by themselves.
1. Create a partnership with an evaluation methodology but avoid a standard methodology across the company as part of the supplier relationship management process. A rigid structure across the supplier base isn’t usually applicable to services, especially communications where the agency’s output is co-dependent on the quality of the client’s input. This simply promotes a supplier mentality over true partnership.
2. Make improving the health of the client-agency relationship the focus of evaluations, not financial renumeration. Linking agency income to evaluations is commonplace but it shifts the focus away from the relationship itself in favour of financial matters.
3. Evaluations should be two-way. Marketing input has cause and effect and to evaluate the agency only, ignores half of the picture. For example, poor briefing will affect the quality of the agency’s work, and strong strategic leadership facilitates stronger strategies. We often say at Aprais that clients get the agencies they deserve. When both parties evaluate each other, improvements can be identified on both sides and the agency can also share examples of best practice from their own client base or network.
4. Evaluate regularly. Our data shows six-monthly evaluations optimize the opportunities for consistent improvement. If agency performance is linked to renumeration, a mid-year evaluation can ensure the focus remains on the overall health of the relationship, identify areas for development and drive best practice on both sides.
5. Use external benchmarks. While internal measurement can drive improvements it can also fall victim to an in-house corporate bubble, and skewed interpretation of results. External metrics allow for comparison with similar relationships and provides context for different scopes of work.