Better Client-Agency Partnerships One Benchmark at a Time

Is my relationship with the agency strong? Am I getting what I paid for?

At any point in a client/agency partnership, a client should be able to ask these two questions and quickly ascertain the state and health of their relationship. Seems simple enough. The caveat, of course, is that answering these questions requires goals and objectives. Goals and objectives established at the start of the relationship, and then actively managed after the pitch is over.

In our work with clients and agencies on agency search and performance evaluation, we’ve found that the absence of clear, mutually agreed upon benchmarks is often at the center of strained partnerships. Because in the thick of the day-to-day business, questions arise:

  • Is the agency team overstaffed or understaffed?
  • Is the creative fresh?
  • What constitutes a campaign “win?”
  • How is the agency being measured relative to our corporate goals?
  • Are we productive and efficient?

And without clearly defined objectives, these questions can yield a variety of answers depending on whom you ask, or perhaps even worse, remain unanswered.

With today’s marketing pressures and the rise of procurement’s role in agency management, confirming objectives for both the relationship and investment sides of your client/agency partnership is critical. Great relationships are built on trust—trust that is earned by delivering against your promises. So instead of being stumped by the questions above, consider the following:

  • Alignment of agency compensation with client business goals
  • Creative briefing best practices to avoid multiple changes due to lack of understanding around assignments
  • A sound contact strategy to quell frustration and confusion around client/agency communication

These are just a few examples. Expectations around brand metrics, sales metrics, media value delivery and market share can also be in the mix. Specific measures will vary from one partnership to another. The larger point is that no one should assume both parties understand where they need to go, how they are being measured and what success looks like without a roadmap. And if procurement is involved, tap them early. Engaging procurement after an agency has been chosen can lead to retrofitted solutions, and disputes between clients and agencies that didn’t need to occur.

The tenure of client/agency partnerships is shrinking. Agency reviews, while at times necessary, are costly and disruptive. Taking the time to solidify relationship and investment goals from the start, and benchmarking against them once the agency is selected, avoids unnecessary reviews, motivates teams on both sides and fosters longer, more valuable partnerships.

This post is co-authored by Judy Neer and Dan Jeffries.