By Judd Keene, Keene Communications

The client calls in the agency.  The suit from the agency shows up, asks a few pointed questions, and then returns to his office.  One or two weeks pass, and the suit returns with a brochure or an ad.  Magically, the creative process has provided yet another marketing tool. 


The only real results from this type of client-agency process are ineffective marketing communications, or worse, miscommunication.  


The real formula for a successful client-agency relationship is based on the three C's -- good mutual communications, good counsel, and good creative.  That's what works, and that's what sells. 


Many agencies and clients discover that they are unable to work well together for a variety of reasons.  Too often the expectations of the client or the agency are ill founded.  Clients may feel they are being ignored in favor of larger clients.  Agencies may feel as though their best recommendations are being ignored. 


While there is no magic formula, there are a number of ways to ensure good results from your client-agency team.  Ultimately, the money and time the two companies invest in each other make these guidelines essential to success.


Companies and agencies that have had good results, which were based on strategically developed plans, know that great marketing communications truly is a team effort.  And never does it come instantly, or by chance. 



The Relationship

Successful programs are usually the result of mutual trust and respect.  More important than the size of the agency, or the size of the budget, individuals representing the client and the agency need to feel like one organization with similar goals. 


Both parties should be able to communicate openly and honestly.  Agency and client need to be able to speak frankly and in complete confidence. 


The agency needs to recognize that in order for the program to be successful, it needs to do everything possible to ensure that the client is successful. 



The Responsibilities

As in any good relationship, there must be defined roles for each party.  Many agencies start out trying to impress the client, and frequently take on more than they are able to handle effectively, based on a limited understanding of the client's products, organization, and markets. 


That is not to suggest that the agency is incapable of quickly assessing the client's needs.  But it would be foolish to suggest that the agency possesses more information and insight than the client after a brief period of learning.


It is the client's responsibility to clearly outline objectives and market information that the agency will need in order to develop an effective program.  The agency is responsible for bringing the expertise and perspective necessary to craft the strategies that will help the client achieve those objectives.



The Good Listeners

A good agency listens with an inquiring mindset.  Information is critical to the success of the program, and the agency should seek out sources of knowledge from within the client's organization.  The successful client encourages the agency to utilize all resources available to the company.  


The sales team is often the best place to begin.  As the "front line" of the company, sales personnel have intimate knowledge of the company's strengths and weaknesses in the marketplace.  These opinions and insights, as well as information obtained from staff, create balance to the views presented by management.  When appropriate, the agency also should speak with some of the client's customers.  The client should welcome this process, and encourage it.



The Give And Take

Just as the client expects responsiveness from the agency, the agency requires the same consideration from the client.  While projects cannot begin in earnest until all input is received from the client, projects that were pushed through the creative process should not wait weeks before being reviewed and approved. 


Approaching each project as a critical rush, though, is a formula for disaster.  While every project should progress in a timely fashion, good work usually takes longer.  Without sufficient time to experiment with different concepts and creative approaches, the agency will have a difficult time producing high-quality work consistently.  When this happens, the client, as well as the agency become dissatisfied.


Of course, even the best marketing communications team has a crisis now and then, when anything short of a miracle won't do.  When this happens, the client should be confident that the agency will assign the project top priority.  And the agency should trust that the client is not just running it through the hoops. 



The Tab

Most clients recognize that the agency is a business, too, and needs to make a profit in order to remain viable.  As such, once cost parameters are agreed upon, the client should feel secure in knowing that the agency will bill only what is fair for services rendered.  Similarly, the agency should realize that it is abusive and impractical to send out a bill every time they answer a phone call.  The client should never be made to feel as though the clock is always running.



It All Comes Down To…

Results.  When all is done, clients measure the worth of their agency by results. Were qualified inquiries generated?  Did sales increase?  Was favorable coverage achieved? Was the company's image enhanced? The answers to these questions are far more significant than whether or not creative awards were garnered by the agency. 


With these attitudes and guidelines in place, there will be a clear understanding of expectations by both parties.  The agency should be able to provide good counsel and good creative, while both parties share good communication.  The result is a solid marketing communications program that hasn't been pulled out of a hat.


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Judd Keene is the principal owner of Keene Communications, a Syracuse-based marketing communications agency with emphasis on worldwide business-to-business, technical and industrial products and services.



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