Happily Ever After: What it Takes to Make an Agency-Client Relationship Work

A recent article, "Le Divorce," by Bruno Gralpois (link below) captures the transitional nature of the advertising business and how several decades-long relationships have recently come up for review. He points out how disruptive an agency change can be for marketers, often failing to yield the outcome the organization had hoped for. He points to the need for on-going "vigilant" relationship management to ensure accountability, alignment and ultimately better work.  

At Hallway Talk, our role as a third party in relationship management is to find the "Client's Truth".  The Client's Truth is their perception of your agency and is often based on things they haven't or won't share with you -- things that can lead to Le Divorce.  We talk confidentially to agency clients on-on-one to open up lines of communication, put the issues on the table, and help agencies develop action plans to get the relationship back on track.

Like Mr. Gralpois, we use the marriage analogy as a tool to describe the agency-client relationship.  We find that it is an easy way to grasp the status of the relationship and what is needed, from a broad perspective, to make it better.  What makes the marriage tool interesting is it gives the agency a snapshot of how their portfolio of clients looks from a relationship standpoint. We can look at this dynamic for each agency office individually as well as for the agency as a whole.   And, since relationships change over time, the marriage tool helps measure progress made in shifting more accounts toward the Happily Married group.

After talking to an agency's clients, we assess and classify the relationship.  Here's how we use the marriage tool classifications to help agencies understand their client-relationship status from a broad agency perspective:

The Honeymoon   It's an ideal state and often, as expected, at the beginning of the relationship. Enjoy, cherish this state of bliss and learn as much as you can about your partner.  They'll be more patient with you and more forgiving of your flaws.

Happily Married:  This is the healthy place to be.  Sure, there’s a honey-do list, but if the agency is actively working on the list, the relationship stays strong.

Needs Romance:   Even good marriages can use a little romance.  We advise agencies when accomplishing the honey-do list is not enough – and where they need to proactively manage the relationship to get and keep it healthy.

Needs Counseling:   If an agency has a client here, we let them know where there is a significant problem.  The relationship can go either way and it is up to the agency to seek out solutions and take action to make the relationship succeed.

Divorce Pending: (Sometimes the agency sees it coming and sometimes they don’t.)  The agency doesn’t realize just how dissatisfied the client is – to the point where they want out.  When we discover this, the issues we’ve identified can be addressed to start healing the relationship;  unfortunately, sometimes it’s too late and the agency just gets more advance notice for a smoother transition.

What Mr. Gralpois’ article and our experience at Hallway Talk reinforces is the importance and the value of client-relationship and client-retention efforts.  Done right, it not only improves the relationship and loyalty but it also contributes to organic growth of that client's account, a healthier agency environment and allows the agency true growth through new business, not revenue replacement.

Hallway Talk is a client-retention practice that helps agencies optimize their existing relationships with clients.  By uncovering the Truths that are spoken in the Hallway, they provide agencies business insights that allow them to improve relationships, reputation, grow the business and foster loyalty.  To learn more visit hallwaytalk.com or contact Dory Ford, dory@hallwaytalk.com