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Going from good to great client relationships

Going from good to great client relationships
Austen Donnellan, Client Services Director at Bray Leino, reveals the key points from Suki Thompson's thought-provoking client relationship talk.

Last week there was a full house at the IPA Breakfast Session to hear Suki Thompson, CEO of Oystercatchers, deliver a fantastic seminar on the secrets of what makes great, enduring client relationships.

Using her first-hand knowledge and, also having recently spoken at length with a number of CMOs and Marketing Directors, Suki took the assembled throng through the key characteristics of what great client agency relationships look like, supported with real world examples.

Allowing herself a dash of theory to start proceedings, Suki explained how Performance = Potential minus Interference.

Namely, the client-agency relationship (and so the performance) are determined by the ability to maximise the ambitions and minimise the obstacles. Turning that into a set of behaviours and actions, below are the ways agencies can deliver great client relationships:

  • Invest in understanding their business. Demonstrate to clients how we as agencies are investing time and people in their business, beyond the day to day service requirements. Think about baking in one day per month to the client-agency contract that will allow all team members to look beyond the day to day client business and use these insights and inputs. So, for example, don’t make client status meetings just about outputs – use this time to demonstrate our inputs based on the additional time you have invested in their business, that can then help and shape current and future plans.
  • Understand client growth drivers. We can get consumed in just looking to build brand value, but often, these are not the only growth drivers that are on the client’s radar. Their actual growth drivers could be, for example, reducing churn, delivering acquisition and creating partnerships, that on the face of it seem distant from brand value growth. So make sure you are discussing in detail the client’s growth drivers and the ways in which marketing can play a role in affecting these.
  • Influence key stakeholders. It’s not enough to think the job is done by selling the client the right campaign that will deliver the best return via a highly motivated team to deliver it. Think also about what the client needs to do and satisfy the other stakeholders within their own business and make sure this is dialled into the plan. How many times have great strategic thinking, brilliant creative ideas and executions and tantalising ROIs been stalled within the client's business because the agency didn’t fully understand and allow for the myriad of approvals and internal factors into their proposal? Too often, that’s what.
  • Understand ROI. Too often, agencies don’t get under the skin of ROI, and this is hindering our ability to really work with the clients to deliver change. No amount of creative brilliance will compensate for a lack of grasp of the numbers on a client’s business or campaign performance. So, if you’ve not looked seriously at financial management training with a marketing focus, now’s the time to make sure you’re getting up to speed in this vital area.
  • Help clients to think ahead. We live in a world when information and technology are expanding at dizzying levels, with a myriad of data sources, trends and futurology on what is not just around the next corner, but the one after that. By and large, these are all guesses. Our role in this is to help clients look five years ahead - how we can steal a march on the competition without throwing away what we have.

In addition, don’t forget the core components for any great client relationship:

  • Hire smart people. Clients want us to be smarter than them. More knowledgeable about markets, channels, category opportunities and constraints.
  • Practice active listening. Never assume you understand what you hear. Always play it back to the client. Always keep the client brief with you at every stage.
  • Demonstrate teamwork. Whether this is agency to client or through agency communities and the client, it’s vital that we are seen to be working well together. Agencies can get a bad rep if they don’t fix underlying issues with other agency partners. Clients want a team of highly motivated, experienced people working on their business who can play well together, and help them deliver their needs. Anything else is playground stuff and not respected.
  • And none of the above can work unless you create trust. Brilliant ideas won’t see the light of day unless there are strong levels of trust at all levels in the client-agency relationship.

In conclusion, Suki pointed out that agencies are being decoupled from traditional profit sources at one level, and ravaged by procurement processes at the other.

So it’s even more important that agencies are fostering and developing great client relationships, delivering value at every stage and owning the upfront thinking in order to drive value both for the client, but also for the client-agency relationship

Austen Donnellan is Client Services Director at Bray Leino.

Check out our Client Relationship group.

For a summary of the presentation, click here for video.

Last updated 10/06/2014

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