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Wedded bliss

Pfizer and Resolute unite to explain how to get the most out of the client-agency relationship

Just marriedFor the agency, a pitch is like a performance: weeks of preparation, followed by the final dress rehearsal, and then the team puts on the make-up and high heels and endeavours to win the client over with its creativity and intellect. In the meantime, the client has just a few hours to make a decision that could make or break their brand. So once the opening night euphoria is over and the hard work starts, how do you make sure you get the most out of your new collaboration?

Getting the best out of your agency
It is not really possible to get under the skin of the team's personalities in a two-hour pitch, so once your new agency has been appointed, consider hosting a client-agency team induction to get to know each other properly. This is a great opportunity to discuss working practices and long-term plans for the brand, but also importantly to share your own aspirations and challenges.

Encouraging honesty from both sides is important from the outset, whether this be about budgets, internal issues or when giving feedback. If there is a problem with your agency team or its work, speak up and give it an adequate chance to fix it.

Remember that agencies are often small businesses, for whom cash flow is critical. Review budgets and sign off invoices promptly, and if you feel short-changed, say so. Difficult discussions about money can strain the relationship. It is also in the interests of the client to be as transparent as possible when it comes to forecasting future work. This helps the agency to resource the account properly, rather than scrambling for additional manpower at the last minute.

Plan for a long-term collaboration
The longer you work with an agency team, the more value you will get from it, both financially and strategically. Invest in it by involving it in internal planning discussions and strategic reviews, even if outside of the scope of its work. The more information the agency has, the more it will be able to contribute, and if an agency knows you are committed to it, its team will return that loyalty.

When you put a brand manager 'in charge' of an agency, you are effectively asking him to manage a team of several individuals with varying degrees of experience and expertise. It's worth asking whether you would be giving this individual such a team to manage 'in house' before you unleash him on the agency. If the answer is no, you might consider offering some management coaching and development along the way.

Some top tips for a successful partnership

     For the client

•  Take the time to brief the agency thoroughly
•  Give meaningful feedback
•  Hold regular face-to-face meetings with your agency team
•  Treat the agency as an extension of your team
•  Give praise when it is due.

     For the agency

•  Take time to get to know your clients as people
•  Listen and take on board feedback
•  Be flexible - adapt as plans change
•  Seek opportunities to learn from your client
•  Honesty is always the best policy.

What do clients really want?

When deciding on an account team, previous experience and capacity are not the only factors to consider. Make sure you build the right team for your client, matching personalities as well as skills – listen to and understand your clients' needs. Be willing to invest in the relationship, particularly in the early stages – the returns could be substantial.

Agencies can learn a huge amount from clients. Experienced marketers have often been there, done it, and collected the T-shirt on several occasions and can offer valuable insights into the pitfalls of various approaches, while being able to offer some innovative and creative ideas themselves. And remember that, behind the professional façade, your client is a human being. Empathise with his situation and you will understand his behaviour and be able to respond more effectively.

Don't be afraid to challenge your client or ask questions. He is paying for your brains and expertise and he therefore values your opinion. But be constructive in your comments and always offer solutions, not problems. Do remember that quality is everything – you are only as good as your last piece of work. So take pride and ownership of your work and never send anything out that you know isn't up to scratch.

Finally, be honest: if you've messed up, say so; if you're not sure, then ask. If you're going to miss a deadline, then warn in advance – your client may not like it, but he will respect you for being truthful. 

Often the route to success is to get beneath the skin of how the client organisation does things. Learn the language, try to understand – while not getting involved in – the politics, access the networks and learn who the stakeholders are. The brand team you are working with might be driving the car, but someone else may be directing the traffic.

Understand that the world today might look completely different tomorrow and the best laid plans might have to be put aside in favour of approaching things in a new direction with a new flavour. The best agencies flex with the client and are prepared to rewrite the script several times until the desired result is achieved.

The long and winding road
Respect, honesty and an understanding of each other as people, whether client or agency, are the keys to success. As with any long-term relationship, there will be tough times, but the more goodwill you have in the bank, the more likely you are to get through it. Remember that trust isn't gained overnight – it has to be earned. It takes time to get it right, but once you get there, the partnership between agency and client will be so much more fruitful.

The Author
Anne-Marie Swift is European Brand Director at Pfizer and can be contacted at
Kirsty Mearns is Director at Publicis Life Brands Resolute and can be contacted on +44 (0) 20 7357 8187 or at

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9th February 2011


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