How to avoid 'that' call

How to avoid 'that' call

As an agency MD, there is one call that you dread.  The ‘we need to talk’ call.

Want to know something? Clients actually dread making that call, almost as much as you do taking it (almost, I said). That’s because an agency review is highly disruptive; time consuming; and ultimately risky. 

So, what are the pain points, and what can be done to avoid taking that call?

The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council in the US recently released a study examining, amongst other things, the state of client – agency relationships. Their report was based on responses from over 250 stakeholders involved in the Agency relationship management, performance evaluation, and procurement process.

The top five contributors to stress and strain in their Agency relationships, in order, were:

1.  The lack of an agreed-upon set of analytics and metrics that define success and failure.  (Only 42% of respondents reported having a formal scorecard for rating Agency performance, and only half of these have developed best-practice models for client/agency relationship management).

2.  Limited knowledge and comprehension of the client’s business.

3.  Lack of value-added strategic thinking.

4.  Pricing and budgeting issues.

5.  Integration of marketing plans and services.

These issues are not US-centric. They mirror what clients are telling us, and their Agencies, here as well.  So what can be done from an agency perspective to address these pain points, and help avoid that call?

Agree. Assess. Action. Define what success looks like in the relationship.  Too many Agency relationships are grounded in ambiguity. Without some sort of formal structure in place, how do you know what your clients actually want and need from you?  And more importantly, how well you are performing?

As an agency, you should insist on having your performance critically reviewed, as you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Or, as one Agency Principal told us recently – “data trumps intuition”.

Immerse yourself in your client’s business. Clients who have enduring relationships with their Agencies talk about how they eat, breathe and sleep their Brands.  And while this is nothing new, nor revolutionary, this attachment to a client’s business seems to be a diminishing trait.  At least that’s what clients are telling us.

Replace Proactivity with Anticipation.  Anticipation is steadily being valued over proactivity. Proactivity conjures up visions of decks; the killer presentation; an event of epic proportions. 

But more often than not, these lack the insight and the actionability to actually contribute to a client’s business.  Anticipation, however, provides a daily opportunity to do so. To provide smaller, but more consistent and meaningful contributions. To help a client who might be so bogged down with just getting through today that they may not be able to focus on tomorrow, next week, or next year.

Treat your Client’s money as if it were your own. Again, a mantra as old as the business itself, but with the increasing financial pressures clients face, it is more important than ever.  Where it used to be an annoyance, it is now increasingly a genuine threat to the relationship.

Play nice.  Integration is a lagging indicator, with the leading indicator being collaboration.  Integration happens through successful collaboration, whereas disintegration happens when Agencies try to protect their turf. Is it any surprise that those agencies that score highest on collaboration also tend to have the greatest influence with their clients?

John Costello, chief global customer and marketing officer of Dunkin Brands summed it up nicely in the study: “I think the most successful client/agency relationships are based on clear objectives, collaboration, open communications, and mutual respect”.

Wise counsel for those wanting to dodge that call.

Jeff Estok is managing partner at Navigare

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