The 3 Keys to Successful Agency Relationships

There are a lot of very capable advertising agencies and no shortage of experienced, intelligent marketing professionals on the client-side.  So what distinguishes successful client-agency relationships from those that fail to yield the desired results?  Based upon my experience it comes down to three key elements: People, Process and Perspective.

Other than scale and talent, often there is little that distinguishes one advertising agency’s service offering from the next.  They offer a comparable array of resources delivered through professionals representing a consistent range of agency functions.  Yet some client-agency relationships withstand the test of time, producing memorable work and significant in-market results, while others struggle to synchronize their efforts that result in failure to produce the desired results.    As a rule, individuals and business entities enter into relationships committed to the notion of success.  However, in a people business such as professional services, achieving success requires more than commitment and good intentions.

Constructing an effective team begins with assembling the right people with the cumulative experience and skills necessary to address the client organization’s market challenges and opportunities.  Assigning roles and responsibilities to each team member will assist in improving the group’s efficiency and productivity while minimizing conflict.  Over time, it is important to hold a team together to leverage the group’s shared learning, brand knowledge and market insights to achieve incremental gains year-over-year.  As we all know, in an industry marked by high employee turnover, this is often easier said than done.

Implementing a sound process to guide both the team’s efforts and resource investment decisions is a critical component to a successful relationship.  The process plays an important role in assisting the team in executing their tasks in an efficient manner, maintaining a goal orientation and providing feedback on the team’s progress to key agency and client-side stakeholders.  In the end, an effective process will mitigate risks (i.e. legal, financial, in-market performance) and improve transparency for all members of the team while enhancing the cumulative contributions of each team member.

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”  – W. Edwards Deming

Having a shared perspective is a necessary component of all successful relationships.  This does not mean that the client and agency must agree on everything.  Differing opinions and the ability to discuss the merits of disparate points-of-view is an essential element of producing break-through work.   Undoubtedly, a shared perspective involves clarity around a brand’s position, its target audience and an understanding of what moves the needle when it comes to demand generation.  However, it also involves a knowledge of and respect for each organization’s culture and values.  These crucial insights help drive team interactions and assist in resolving conflict when disputes inevitably arise.

Of note, client-agency agreements represent the ideal venue for establishing the “rules of the road” for aligning people, process and perspective.  A well-constructed letter-of-agreement (LOA) will clearly define an agency’s roles and responsibilities, identify key deliverables and layout the criteria for assessing performance.  Additionally, LOAs should incorporate an agency staffing plan which identifies agency personnel by name and title with their utilization levels.  This is a pre-requisite for assembling and “locking-in” a team and, in conjunction with the scope-of-work, forms the basis for the agency remuneration agreement.  The LOA should also establish the processes and controls that will govern all aspects of the relationship thus providing both parties with clarity around the advertiser’s expectations, particularly when it comes to accountability and transparency.

Finally, it is important to remember that the LOA is a living document which must be socialized among key constituents within the client and agency organizations and must be reviewed and reconciled on a regular basis to insure that both parties are conducting themselves in an appropriate manner.  Many advertisers consider it astute to engage an independent consultant to conduct a contract compliance audit to assess agency performance and gain valuable insights that  improve both the return on advertising investment and the relationship.

Interested in learning more about the “3 P’s” and their role in “Building a High-Performance Agency Network?”  Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Author Cliff Campeau

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