At Gullan&Gullan we recently had a situation where the relationship with one of our clients turned toxic. Luckily, both agency and client wanted to save the relationship and so we embarked on redefining the terms of our engagement. At its core, communication and collaboration were the two values that saved the relationship. And we have gone on to not only learn from this and apply it to our other clients, but also re-establish a trusted relationship with this client. Here are some learning's that both communications agencies and marketing professionals might find useful in establishing terms of engagement between client and their communications partners.
1. Contracts bring clarity to grey area
Develop contracts that provide transparency, accountability and management efficiency. Contracts are an essential part of any business relationship in defining the scope of the relationship and managing the day-to-day activity and service delivery of that relationship. Most contracts retreat into the background when a relationship is functioning, but become highly relevant – and useful – when problems arise.
2. Agree to Engagement Agreements
Traditionally, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were used to set service expectations. But these are unilateral and based on a servant master relationship. In marketing, the service level of the agency is directly impacted and dependent on the role of the marketer. Therefore the agency and client should collaborate in developing an Engagement Agreement through a series of workshops that clearly defines the expectations and needs of both parties at every touch point and interaction.
3. Strategic versus reactive
Marketers often react to the marketplace rather than planning and making strategic decisions. The reactive approach means decisions are taken quickly and without planning, resulting in costly mistakes – for which the agency is often blamed. In addition, a strategic approach is also more likely to be innovative as the client and agency can recognise and capture opportunities before the competition. It is recommended that the client and agency define which approach is preferable and the pros and cons associated with it.
4. Appropriate remuneration for maximum ROI
The role of remuneration is more than simply paying for the resources and services you need. Remuneration models – whether retainer or project based – can encourage agencies to be more proactive, to offer more strategic insight and work more collaboratively with other suppliers and clients. Your decisions taken in point 3 should determine your preferred means of remuneration, while providing flexibility to change with evolving needs.
5. Transparent mark-ups
The agency business model is to provide communication solutions and services to achieve marketing objectives. Often this involves the procurement of external services and components from external suppliers. The time it takes to determine the optimum number, calibre and mix of suppliers as well as managing deadlines and quality control is well worth the commission that agencies charge. However to prevent scepticism about your agencies profitability and motivation clients and agencies should agree to a commission and if required, provide clients supplier quotes.
6. Provide more information than less – in writing
Clients know the details of their products and services better than anyone. Clients should provide their agencies with a comprehensive written brief and when the topic is dense, a working draft of the copy. This will eliminate unnecessary and frustrating revisions.
7. Constructive feedback
Good communication, on-going constructive feedback – both positive and negative – and agreed upon expectations result in long, trusted and mutually beneficial relationships. And remember, praise will go a long way to encouraging continued excellent work. Creative agencies are motivated by praise and the sense of a job well done.
Remember agreements of this nature do not have to mean that clients become joined at the hip with agencies. Your terms can clearly state that a simple 60 days notice is required to terminate any contract – from both sides – as there are times when agencies want to extricate themselves from an abusive client/agency relationship.