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Driving lessons and ‘shower’ time

Driving lessons and ‘shower’ time
Kerry Glazer, chief executive of AAR, shares her early reactions to the Alliances Adaptathon, where she ran a workshop on getting relationships started on a sound footing.

Why the AAR is involved

Our business, and the service we offer clients and agencies, is predicated on building enduring relationships. About half our business is helping agencies and clients manage and improve their relationships.

It’s very important for us that time is taken to establish an agency-client relationship on strong foundations right from the very start. Ian Priests’s ADAPT agenda plays exactly to what we think is important.

We want to be involved in change. As an intermediary, it’s incumbent on us follow best practice in relationship building. If we help test, develop and establish new best practice models, that’s good for our clients and for us.

The biggest role we can play is in seeding any change [in the conduct of client-agency relationships] with clients.

The focus on the first 100 days of a new agency-client relationship

The analogy I like is this: the pitch is the equivalent of a teenager passing their driving test; but it’s the first 100 days after that they really learn to drive. That’s how it is in a new client-agency relationship.

You need to set up the new relationship properly. Invest time on understanding how you are going to work together across the teams with, for example, two-way inductions.

Spend time on the granular stuff like working practices, briefing, creative sign-offs, managing ongoing personnel changes and so on.

What happens after a pitch, quite naturally, is that some of the senior agency and client personnel are less involved, and the task of getting on with it is devolved to teams who have not yet had the chance to build the chemistry. What goes on at the top-level between client and agency is not always reflected at lower levels.

Impressions of the Alliances Adaptathon

There was a great energy about the day: a good mix of serious and important stuff, some intellectual stimulation from John Kearon and Julie Hay, and a very strong practical element when we had our hack groups.

I felt a strong willingness on the part of everyone in the room to tackle this. I think one reason for this is that it is rooted in commercial creativity, which is a shared goal.

How clients can get the best out of their agencies

You’ve got to set up the relationship so the agency can produce its best work. A client won’t get the best out of their agency if they haven’t already sorted out the basics.

Once you’re in a working relationship, it can become transactional, driven by output. But if you’ve got firm foundations in place, it’s much smoother. If you’ve got it right, that leads to proper, grown-up commercial creativity.

And there’s a bonus: it’s what I call ‘shower time’ – agency staffers actually thinking about their client’s business while they’re in the shower.

What makes for a good relationship

You can boil it down to two qualities. The first thing is trust. But it has to be earned. Once that trust is in place, it’s so much easier to deal with the problems, the changes of personnel or the little irritations that can creep in.

The second is transparency. That leads to trust – so it becomes a reinforcing circle.

Why stroking matters

Julie Hay’s focus on the importance of stroking – it’s an essential part of human interaction and chemistry – in an agency-client relationship is exactly right.

We had an example where an agency did an outstanding pitch, head and shoulders above any other the client saw. But there had been no contact beforehand, i.e. no stroking. So the client wants to appoint this agency, but has a nagging doubt the relationship won’t work.

Stroking feeds into trust. It makes the client feel the agency is on their side, will back them up, will help them deal with the C-suite and so on.

The other way, the agency feels empowered to do its best work, go that little bit further, that the client will support them, and feel that they will get fairly paid for great thinking and creativity.

Read more about how 'stroking' can help you build better relationships at work and home. 

Last updated 14/10/2013

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