Defining the Client & Agency Relationship

Utilize your advertising agency’s creative services to the fullest.

I read the best line from an email the other day – it simply stated, “Just because you know how to use Photoshop doesn’t mean you should.” It is a comical portrayal of what I face daily as a creative director in an advertising agency. Whether it’s internal or external, there is the perception that we just push a button and a creative solution appears. If there is anyone in a job that requires 100% creative perfection on a daily basis, you know this all too well. The creative process is just that, a process. It’s a journey that happens mentally and verbally, and through good old fashion pen-to paper or maybe even a combination of all.

I’m such a fan of television shows like Mad Men who have made my job as a creative director a bit more glamorous – and even seedy – but there is no scotch glass or pack of Lucky Strikes in my file cabinet. Though, it does shed some light on this unique business and the challenges I face solving clients’ needs on a daily basis. But, I digress.

The key to great marketing and advertising is strategic thinking and brand management. Let me explain. The brand is the public interface between the company and the general public…the customer. The long-term brand strategy is what will allow your company to rise above the competition, build brand loyalty and delight your stockholders. The fact is, many companies think their brand is just a name, and leveraging how the brand is positioned will have only a small effect on their customer’s loyalty and feelings. Strategic advertising and marketing is developing the brand in a thoughtful and authentic manner, rather than altering the brand as a reactionary measure to adverse conditions or as a band-aid for greater unsolved problems.

As we’ve all heard, communication is the key to any successful relationship, either personal or professional. The same goes for the relationship with your advertising agency. Yes, we can come up with great ideas to fix a problem, but there are better ways to ensure your investment in your agency is maximized.As I stated earlier, the creative process is a journey and that journey starts as an idea. The idea may come from your business or your agency, but for the idea to grow and evolve it needs to be nurtured and from that the journey is underway.

Exposing your agency and your business, from C-Level down to sales and reception, gives your agency the whole story. If we are to tell your brand story in an authentic way we must understand your business just as well as you do. If you wait until there is a problem to include your agency, it makes that relationship reactionary and prohibits you from getting the best possible solution. Reactionary information almost always requires a very quick turn around and doesn’t give the journey the time to be properly mapped out. Proactive creative allows for strategic thinking, white boarding, brainstorming, research and mapping. I’m sure the gentleman who’s brainchild was to rebrand Netflix’s DVD service to Qwikster is deeply regretting that decision and the loss of millions dollars and customers. Trying to advertise with such knee-jerk reactions to what your industry is going through seldom yields success.

The relationship is based on communication and trust. Great ideas should be both scary and exciting. The path to success is paved with hard work, originality and walking off the beaten path. Here are some essential tips for getting the most out of your agency relationship.

Trust and Communication: Keep your agency informed, from sales to goal planning and company strategies. Agencies need to know all the successes as well as the missteps. We serve as an extension of your marketing department and you need to trust that your agency has your best interest in mind, whether in branding or budgetary recommendations.

Time is your friend: Great things come to those who are patient. When your agency asks for more time, grant them the ability to work through a proper solution. Remember knee-jerk, band-aid solutions are just that, temporary and not intended to correct the issue long-term.

Value risk: Great agencies, in general, thrive by thinking outside the norm. Truly great advertising that stands out has to be different. A good agency isn’t reckless. As proof of this our CEO stamps, “This is our client’s money” on all of our paychecks. Successful client and agency relationships are built on trust and calculated risk – knowing full well not every outing to the plate will be a home run. “Strategy” is long-term not short-term.

Stand behind the work and fire up the troops: The journey and collaboration of weeks and months of strategic planning leads to the launch and execution of the work. Roll out the campaign’s background and rationale to your staff. Agencies love to pitch their work, so have them pitch the work to your key staff members before you roll it out company-wide. Then stand by the work, responding to, not reacting to, questions or complaints. Believe in the campaign and champion it.

The business of advertising is not for the faint hearted, but it’s a rewarding adventure. Agencies and clients who apply these basic proactive rules of engagement not only receive better creative, but also have the most profitable and successful relationships. For this art director, it’s the best job hands down.