There isn’t an agency meeting that doesn’t end with the question, “Who’s hot?” It’s an interesting question because the answer is contingent upon the “agency of the moment” and its winning streak. However, what that agency does to win new business isn’t necessarily appropriate for another agency and its expertise.
So what is it that causes an agency to be sought out by clients? What are successful agencies doing to “crack the clutter”? Why is it that the client-agency relationships that endure far beyond the industry average of three-four years are few and far between?
Whether it’s an increased track record of successful pitching, attracting more client business without pitching or having more enduring and successful client-agency relationships on the roster, there is only one solution. The answer is analogous to the Hippocratic oath taken by a physician: “First, do no harm.” This is at the heart of the thinking of most successful services. They believe their success will come from taking care of their clients and helping them to become successful. The question that should be asked continuously is, “How can we help them succeed?” rather than, “What can we do to win the business?”
The command-and-control approach is over for the marketer, and for the agency trying to win business. Agencies that are engaging (not disruptive) and offering missing opportunities crack the cluttered agency environment and ultimately make a difference for the advertiser. Gone are the days of intrusion-driven communications. During a conversation with a potential client, the CMO pointed to a corner of his office piled with paraphernalia from agencies trying to grab his attention and stated, “What a waste of my space and their money!” As part of a review process, it’s the agency that illustrates its deep interest in the advertiser’s offering and sincerely wants to help the client that pulls ahead of the pack.
During a review for a restaurant chain, there was one agency that visited almost every restaurant in its region. The proposed account group spent days waiting tables and engaging patrons in order to understand the consumer and the opportunities and/or challenges faced from the inside. They truly wanted to figure out how to help the advertiser succeed.
We’ve all experienced the thrill and excitement of winning a new account. The key is to keep that exhilaration alive for many years, transcending the tough times and fueling itself on the good times. Onboarding workshops for client-agency newlyweds not only ease the transition into a new relationship, but also make it more effective faster and, ultimately, more enduring. It’s not enough anymore to listen and learn. There’s an acute need to act and make an impact.
In a recent onboarding workshop that AAR Partners conducted, the top attributes expected of each team all fell under the realm of “partnership.” Some of the specific attributes clients expected of agencies were: proactively thinking about my business; quick to respond to my problems; and a dedicated team committed to my business. Some of the top attributes that agencies expected of clients were: sharing objectives; honest communication; and responsive and constructive criticism.
It’s the agency that has the keen ability to guide a client in an engaging manner through an open and honest conversation that brings awareness and clarity to the marketing problem. Doing so promotes success for both parties.
This past November we attended the second annual industry dinner honoring “Enduring Relationships,” presented by the Advertising Club and district two of the American Advertising Federation. How many relationships are celebrated each year, you ask? Five! Five out of thousands of relationships have endured beyond three decades and been celebrated each year. That begs the question: Can the committee continue to find 30-plus-year relationships, year after year, for an annual celebration?
So how do some client-agency relationships endure for two, three or 10 decades? The answer is simple, but the dedication needed to support it is much more demanding. The “enduring relationships” celebrated didn’t consider themselves “client-agency relationships.” In fact, that description was felt to be almost insulting to the celebrated teams. Instead, they considered themselves “friends all contributing to a successful business partnership.”
The fact is we know that clients are looking for two assets from an advertising agency. They want a solid creative idea, which is the currency of advertising, and, equally important, they want the confidence that the agency will always ask the question, “What would I do if it were my business?”
Leslie Winthrop and Lisa Colantuono are executives at AAR Partners in New York.