The psychology of relationship management
Report on the 100-day Alliances experiment
16th January 2014
Following the 3rd October Alliances ADAPTATHON™, Alison Bone - an accredited and experienced relationship counsellor - was commissioned to offer training and consultation to agency staff and their clients. This 100-day experiment offered up to five one-to-one consultation sessions, the aim being to explore the usefulness of ideas and thinking from the world of relationship counseling in the advertising industry.
Of particular interest was whether this consultative support, spread throughout the 100 days, could help bring about positive change in the workplace thereby contributing to maintaining and improving good relationship management between agencies and their clients.
Drawing on the material Professor Julie Hay presented at the Alliances ADAPTATHON™, along with models from Transactional Analysis and Systemic Theory, participants took part in an initial half day group training programme to explore themes and models of particular relevance in an organisational context:
- Ego-states and personal styles.
- Communication channels.
- Drivers and motivation.
- Strokes (recognition).
- Windows on the world.
- Problem solving.
This was then followed up by four one-to-one sessions in which the models and themes were developed according to the relevance for the issues brought by the participants themselves. Participants were requested to produce self-managed contracts for learning and change during the process.
Participants engaged well with enthusiasm and interest however, during conversations around the contracting process, it quickly became apparent that many of the difficulties were structural and cultural. The culture of 'Master and Servant' soon emerged, along with the structures which support that.
The contracts for learning therefore became progressive - focused around the immediate need in the short term, then looking further ahead to a longer term solution which would change the master-servant relationship to put it more on an equal footing as follows:
(a) The reality of working in this context and how best to manage the resulting stress.
(b) To then look at ways of working with the interactions and transactions with the clients which weren't reactive. Using Transactional Analysis participants realised that they had 'choices' and that they could become 'skilful' in their responses working with clients to produce win-win results.
(c) Finally participants explored being 'proactive' in building closer relationships based on mutuality and shared goals to ease conversations when there were difficulties around, say, deadlines and costs.
- All participants said that they found concepts and models that were “very useful” in developing their skills in working with clients and were implementing changes which were having positive effects.
- Participants reported that the consultation exercise had produced greater insight and tolerance of difference, improved communication skills for better client-agency relationships and direction when “stuckness” sets in.
- One participant reported that the model had become an “anchor” during stressful periods.
- Others said that they had experimented with the skills taught and had found them “easy and effective”.
- The participants appreciated that there was space between sessions giving them the opportunity to experiment and practice new skills, to report back on progress and “fine tune” their new strategies.
- Participants varied in their preferred amount of time between sessions, but all agreed that follow-up was an important component of making positive changes.
Ben Quigley, Group Chief Executive at e>erything d.fferent, reported: “The feedback from our team has been excellent both in terms of the process, which they found to be stimulating and enjoyable, and the outputs; namely understanding relationships and thinking about how to shape new interventions to improve and enhance them further for long term positive outcomes.”
This was a project with only a relatively small number of participants. Along with the excellent evaluations from the Alliances ADAPTATHON™ itself, it appears that relationship skills and, in particular, Transactional Analysis has relevance for advertising and the benefits for client-agency relationships could be enormous. The project suggests that, given training and support, individuals can make changes which benefit themselves, the agency and the client relationship.
Alison Bone is available for more one-to-one counseling by private arrangement. Contact: Alison Bone, MBACP (Accred)
Telephone: 07972 921707
Joint industry training
The learning from this experiment will be integrated into our development programme for joint client-agency training in relationship management.
The ADAPT agenda is about changing behaviour across the industry. Please get involved by going to the IPA’s ADAPT hub as well as joining its LinkedIn group.
This is the first in a series of chapters about the ADAPT agenda led by IPA President Ian Priest.
It reports on the main output from the Alliances ADAPTATHON™ and includes templates for a 100-day charter, along with a relationship contract to help agencies and clients achieve stronger and longer working relationships.
Open or download "A is for Alliances"
After reading "A is for Alliances", do you agree with Gyro Managing Director Nick Jefferson's Campaign blog piece take on it? He says, "Because whilst it would be naïve to suggest that client behaviour is irrelevant, in the main the fault lies with us; the agencies."
Here is what Troy Warfield, Chief Commercial Officer, EMEA, for Avis Budget Group, learnt...
On getting involved with the IPA’s Alliances Adaptathon….
“When I heard about Ian Priest’s agenda for the IPA and the push for commercial creativity, I was keen to take part. I have a lot of respect both for him and what he’s looking to achieve.
“He’s genuinely trying to bring about a big change, he clearly has a real passion for strengthening client-agency relationships, and it’s something I believe in strongly.”
On the relevance of the Avis advertising philosophy to client-agency relationships….
“One of the first things I did when I started at Avis Budget Group was to read Robert Townsend’s book Up the Organization, to understand the history of the organisation.He was the Avis CEO in the 60s at the time DDB created the famous ‘We try harder’ campaign.
“That campaign is a perfect example of what happens when you have a strong client-agency relationship.
“It was in Townsend’s book that I read about the compact which enshrined the working philosophy between Avis and DDB.
“The first rule in the book states: ‘Avis will never know as much about brand communication as DDB, and DDB will never know as much about the rent-a-car business as Avis.’
“That’s about mutual respect for each other’s area of professionalism.
“When we appointed VCCP to our account, I gave everyone a copy of the book. We’ve got our own version of the philosophy and both VCCP and ourselves have signed up to building the relationship around this contract.”
On two lessons from the Alliances day…
“One, from Professor Julie Hay, was about providing feedback in a way that allows the other party to receive it. You can only do that if you have a true understanding of the people you’re working with.
“The second was by John Kearon from Brainjuicer about how important it is to have an emotional dimension to your advertising. As clients, we’re so focused on the rational, we tend forget the emotion.”
On why relationships founder…
“In my experience, it can occur when there’s a lack of listening. There have been times as a client in the distant past, when we’ve given clear feedback on something to the agency and two months later we’re still seeing the samework played back to us.
“Equally, for an agency, the problem often starts when clients don’t take the time to provide a clear brief, or manage their own internal processes by committee.
“It all comes back to having built a strong relationship, an understanding for the business, accountability and empowerment both ways and trust.”
On the importance of building a long-term relationship with your agency…
“Marketing and our consumers are changing so rapidly. You need your agency to effectively be a part of your brand and team, to truly understand how the brand’s p&l works and to work at the pace required to ensure you stay ahead of competition.
“True understanding of business doesn’t eventuate from very short-lived client/agency relationships; they take time to develop and to shape”
On why he supports agency diversification…
“The D of Ian Priest’s ADAPT agenda is about agency diversification and that makes perfect sense.
“Our consumers interact across numerous channels and as such our communications options and strategy are far wider reaching. So we need agencies to cover much more ground than they used to.
“Multi-agency briefs and the management of multiple agencies through a program present new challenges for any marketer, so if an agency can successfully diversify into new areas, and simplify the process, then there is a great opportunity”
“Of course, the challenge for the agencies is that the more they diversify, the more pressure they’re under to perform at the top of their game in every area.
“But this is an interesting area, and one we should be exploring.”