Marketing & PR , CX , Announcement

Building a Successful Client-Agency Relationship

Kay Logan

If you’re in need of an advertising agency, don’t worry. There are plenty to pick from.

As of 2020, there are 73,521 advertising agency businesses in the U.S. 1 One of the main differentiators of each agency is how they manage their client relationships.

Agencies come in different sizes and specialties and offer a variety of services across all media and markets. Expertise includes traditional and digital marketing, branding, public relations, events, social media, media buying, and video services, just to name a few. With so many seemingly qualified competitors to choose from, it can be a challenge to select the right agency partner.

So, what attributes should you look for when choosing an agency? In addition to finding one that has experience in your industry and a solid understanding of your business goals, you’ll also need one that understands the importance of managing client relationships. Agencies and clients who fail to manage their business relationship proactively tend to end their partnership around 3.2 years. A lot of effort and money goes into finding the right agency, so it’s in your best interest to maintain the business relationship.

A healthy client-agency relationship is built on mutual trust. According to The Business Case for Relationship Management, a joint report by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and 4A’s, a relationship management program can get a new client-agency relationship off to a great start and keep it on track. It can also help existing relationships maintain or rebuild a strong foundation to ensure future success. To sum it up, a relationship management program is the cornerstone that enables you to optimize your agency’s work and your business results. 

What is Relationship Management?

A relationship management program guides a partnership between a client and an agency. It’s a strategy of engagement that focuses on continuous improvement through open communication and collaboration.

The process involves setting expectations and defining how partners will work together to achieve desired business outcomes.  It also provides a forum for periodic review, open discussion, and clarification of issues to optimize the working relationship. The result is a mutually beneficial long-term partnership that produces great campaigns and meets business goals for the client and the agency–essentially, a “win-win” situation.

Survey Says…

The 4A’s/ANA report shows that 66 percent of clients and 34 percent of agencies surveyed currently have formal client-agency relationship management programs, with the majority established within the past decade. This supports the idea that relationship management programs work best in long-term relationships because they are nurtured over time with consistent feedback. 

Both groups–66 percent of clients and 69 percent of agencies–expressed a high degree of satisfaction with their individual programs and reported experiencing better communication and work, greater efficiency and speed, and an improved ROI. Clients stated that the key components of a successful relationship management program are annual evaluations, mid-year reviews, 360° evaluations, quarterly feedback sessions, regular meetings, daily feedback, and monthly leadership calls. Most notably, more clients use 360° evaluations where both client and agency stakeholders provide feedback on each other to minimize potential issues on both sides.

Overall, a relationship management team should be based on the size, cost, and complexity of the client-agency relationship. Fifty-four percent of clients–primarily larger corporations–have a separate relationship management team of up to 10 people, whereas Agency survey respondents usually assign the responsibility for relationship management to their account management team.

Sixty-five percent of clients and 33 percent of agencies reported that they have a relationship management program in place for retainers and individual projects. About two-thirds of clients insert a clause in their contract. This ensures that a program is established to maintain mutual trust, confidence, and understanding within the client-agency relationship.

Five Fundamentals of an Effective Relationship Management Program

Here are five things the 4A’s/ANA report offers for consideration when implementing a relationship management program:

  1. Secure Executive Support

It’s important to have executive support for the relationship management program team, purpose, and goals to have the biggest impact. Show how an effective program can facilitate active communication and proactive collaboration to deliver better results.

  1. Build Credibility

To gain buy-in and consensus, the relationship management program must build credibility with key internal stakeholders within the client organization and agency. Demonstrate how the program can provide cost savings and create more efficient processes and improved work.

  1. Establish Clear Roles and Responsibilities

Define clear roles and responsibilities that each stakeholder will play. Position participants with unique skillsets such as agency relations, marketing, procurement, finance, and legal as complementary functions, not competitors.

  1. Identify KPIs and Data Standardization

Define clear expectations for performance and measure the success of every campaign. Ideally, KPIs should be developed jointly with the agency, but can be set independently if needed. Choose a combination of campaign and business-level results and leverage quantitative metrics to minimize subjectivity and bias. Consider standardizing your approach to qualitative feedback. This might require training stakeholders on how to assess each metric for consistent scoring.

  1. Provide 360° Feedback

With 360° Feedback, both client and agency provide feedback to each other and identify potential areas of conflict. This method reinforces the idea that the relationship is a true partnership and two-way communication allows for concerns to be identified and addressed. 360° evaluations can occur as frequently as needed whether weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually. The bottom line is that a good relationship starts with clear communication, which serves as a catalyst for exceptional work performed with greater efficiency and speed.

An Extension of Your Team

Yes& believes that managing the client relationship is one of the most important tasks we do. Realizing that you have a large pool of contenders to pick from, we differentiate ourselves–not only in breadth and depth of our knowledge and experience–but by also becoming an extension of your own team. We’re not just another service provider.

Yes& has experienced the long-term benefits of establishing relationship management programs within our retainer programs and non-retainer accounts. We are a proactive partner that uses frequent reviews to keep clients informed on the status of their campaigns and to drive business success. We regularly meet with our clients to determine what is working well and what needs improvement and we implement course corrections well in advance of mandated reviews to meet our clients’ changing needs. Our commitment to frequent reviews consistently earns Yes& “Very Good” and “Exceptional” rankings for performance.

Yes& believes that trust and transparency are the foundation of long-term relationships. Over time, our open communications efforts have built much stronger and mutually supportive relationships with our clients. We always have our clients’ best interests in mind and relationship management programs allow us to be agile and continuously optimize results for our clients.

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

Let’s talk about what the power of "&" can do for you.

Kay Logan
Kay Logan
Account Manager