During an AAR seminar last September, we shared some of the insights we had gleaned from our work helping clients and agencies to review their relationships in the first few months after the agency was appointed and in on-going annual relationship reviews.
We asked the question, “What can you do having worked with a client for two, five or 10 years that you couldn’t do earlier in the relationship?” This sparked an interesting debate that explored both the additional “permissions” that a longer standing relationship gives an agency as well as the possible disadvantages – and whether the disadvantages are avoidable.
We all agree on, and extol, the value of long-term client: agency relationship from the agency perspective. We would also say that the disadvantages that can occur as a result of long term relationships are definitely avoidable. But how often is the value of an enduring relationship truly and clearly articulated to the client in tangible, business terms?
Here are some real client quotes from the two-way surveys that we carried out in 2011 that show an interesting take on tenure:
· “I don’t see the senior guy anymore… He rings me every month to see how it’s going but that’s not adding value to my business.”
· “All they’re interested in is new business.”
· “My agency has turned native.”
· “I need fresh thinking; they don’t seem as keen anymore.”
· “Everything takes longer than it used to…”
· “Every time I talk about a new idea or project, they start talking about over-servicing and fees. I do know I’ll have to find extra budget, but they’re obviously not interested if that’s their first reaction.”
· “They’ve stopped being curious… And I used to love that aspect of my agency.”
Reading these quotes, it might feel like there is a certain inevitability to ending up managing the decline of the relationship after the pitch and post-pitch honeymoon period (when, interestingly, expectations are at their highest on both sides).
The good news is that client comments like these are all avoidable.
We believe there are two key things to focus on: First, realign, realign, realign. This is about recognising and responding to change, whether it’s to changes in scope of work, working practices, or strategy changes. If you have a mechanism in place that can proactively and openly consider and discuss opportunities to realign with your client, there is every chance that you will never hear the quotes above.
It is vital to be able to recognise that change has occurred and that’s about putting some on-going measures in place. It’s all very well harping back to the pitch and what was agreed then but those agreements may well be irrelevant six months into the relationship if circumstances or business issues have changed.
We strongly advocate reviewing the scope of work, agency team structure and working practices and aligning SLA’s, KPI’s and PRB measures to today’s reality, not what was put into the initial contract.
We are keen to find out more about what measures are in place, how often SLA measures are updated and whether they are agency only, or client and agency measures. We asked a cross selection of agencies to complete a small survey at the end of last year, and are now planning to ask a wider group over the next couple of months. Our plan is to create a 2011/12 view which we can analyse and then share the headline results as part of our best practice thinking on realignment tools.
The second area to focus on is actively demonstrating your enthusiasm for the client and their business. Always show passion, focus and drive. Never lose that inquisitive, curious approach, the ability to surprise and delight that led you to win or retain the business in the first place. The focus of your passion and energy may change as you find out more about what matters most to your client but, if it’s not there, or perceived to be waning, that will quickly be felt by the client. It may not, however, be articulated very well by them, meaning that you are not aware of their disappointment until it’s too late.
Vicky Gillan is business director of the AAR Group in the UK with specialist knowledge in Relationship Evaluation and Management.