A look at the structure of relationships that maximize efficiency, return, and happiness.

By Melissa Cohen, Jordan Hill

A good relationship between agency and client can make all the difference in a project. Work is more fun and deliverables are of higher quality when relationships are strong and parties a good fit. For that reason, it’s worth discussing the things agencies should look for in clients – what makes a client “good”? How can account managers improve existing relationships? We asked those questions, and others like them, to account managers Melissa Cohen and Jordan Hill, and here are the takeaways we left with for how to build good agency-client relationships.

Know the client

All good relationships rely heavily on good communication, and that holds true when it comes to relationships between agencies and clients. In order to effectively work on behalf of a client, an agency must be privy to every relevant piece of information – internal processes, objectives, obstacles, etc. The time to discuss that information is early, as all the facts are necessary to properly plan the full scope and schedule of the project.

Know the agency

Conversely, the client must also know everything it can about the agency. Clients aren’t expected to be experts on the general creative process or the specific work processes of a single agency, so it helps to discuss these things. This means working together to guide each party’s expectations by fleshing out the step-by-step timeline of the project and discussing the responsibilities and entitlements of each party as work progresses. Again, these discussions belong at the beginning of a project, as they are likely to affect planning and organization.

Follow the communication structure

Each party should have a point person. On the agency side, the point person is the account manager, whose crucial role is to keep everyone on the same page and ensure that all relevant information and feedback gets relayed constructively to the right party.

On the client side, a point person’s role is to obtain direction from the various client-side stakeholders and present it in a unified way to the agency. This allows the agency to trust that the feedback it receives accounts appropriately for all the differing opinions that exist among client-side stakeholders. In the absence of a clearly delineated communication structure, the creative team may find itself fielding conflicting directions from the client, attempting to guess whose feedback holds the greatest weight and best reflects the true thoughts of the client.

Trust the process

The core of a creative agency’s value lies in its strategic expertise and its understanding of effective creative processes. Thus, a client looking to get its money’s worth will give appropriate weight to the agency’s recommendations and make its best effort to work within outlined processes. Of course, the client maintains the prerogative to follow its gut regardless of the agency’s recommendations – and in fact such actions have occasionally proven fruitful – but it does so at its own peril. In general, trust in the agency is a worthwhile investment provided that the agency has proven capability and is following the above tactics.

Bonus tips

  • Be straightforward. Agencies dislike criticism much less than they appreciate clarity.
  • An email is good, but a phone call is better. Less gets lost in translation.
  • Thank each other. A little appreciation goes a long way, on both ends.