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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Freshen up your agency relationship

How to put the 'zing' back into how you and your agency work together

Business relationships, like other relationships, will have their ups and downs. Things like proactivity, delivering against all odds, and going that extra mile, are all sure signs that things are heading in the right direction. But it's obvious when it goes the other way, and you feel like your agency has taken its eye off the ball.

There may have been a personnel change that you're not happy with, a mistake made, or signs of a lack of common understanding. Or it may feel like your agency is no longer contributing to the strategic direction of your brand.

Ultimately, we base our business relationship decisions on the same founding principles as in our important, everyday relationships. First of all, pitches are usually won because there was a connection – a clear chemistry between the people in the room. Secondly, the basis for a good business relationship is mutual respect, trust as well as open and honest communication – it feels as if the agency is an extension of your own internal team. And finally, an agency should always care – the biggest reason why a client walks away from an agency is when he feels that he is being neglected.

Pitching business on the back of the breakdown of a relationship is costly and can be very time consuming and stressful. So how can we breathe life into a relationship that needs some work put in, before it has to get to that stage? Here are some thoughts on managing the relationship that could be an effective way of turning things round.

Be open, honest and constructive. What is not working? What do you expect from your agency team? What does it expect from you? Communication obviously underpins the entire relationship, but frankness will engender trust and confidence on both sides.

Review your critical success factors, together with your company and brand vision. Allow the agency to share its capabilities, experience and ideas. It may feel like starting from the beginning, but this will inject freshness into the relationship.

This is a great way of starting a new relationship, and an effective tool when reinvigorating a current one. Write a manifesto together, based on what both of your expectations are, so that it can act as a promise and continual reminder of what's important.

Schedule some time with the key people on a regular basis to assess how things are going. Reasonably frequent check-ins will reflect your commitment in making things work.

This may all sound like a huge investment of time, but it doesn't need to be. And if you get it right, it will ultimately save you time and money. It will also give both parties a sense of pride that you worked at it and ended up in a happier place.

Breathing life into your relationship – checklist
Are your expectations of each other aligned?

Do you have the right type and level of resource on the team?

Are you communicating often enough, and in the right way?

Are you aware of the broader capabilities the agency can offer?

Article by
Raakhee Thompson

general manager at Saatchi & Saatchi Health. She can be contacted at

13th June 2013

From: Marketing



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