When you start any relationship, whether a romantic one or a business partnership, you need to develop a common understanding of each other and your shared objectives if you really want it to work. For a good working relationship with your new client or your new agency, you have to come in prepared to be honest if you intend to build a trusting relationship. You have to be who you really are and not put on an act.
Assess your needs and go in knowing what you want. Take time to figure out what you need from the relationship in the short and longer term and set expectations. If you need a lot of creative strategy, but even more tactical help on the ground, make sure your team is structured that way. Don’t say that you want part-time help if you will need someone on board full time in another month; don’t say that you need a lot of help if you really only have a little bit of work (or budget). Of course, circumstances change in many ways that can’t be helped, but do the homework to find out what you need and be honest about it.
Know how the client works and structure things that way. There are many different technologies to help us communicate beyond good, old-fashioned face time. We all have our own preferences and default style. Some clients prefer phone calls; some want you there; some prefer talking to the most senior person on the team; others want to talk directly to the one managing the tactical execution. Rather than start off on auto-pilot, only to discover it isn’t working, talk about how you want to communicate up front. You’ll save time and avoid frustration. There’s no way to predict what any one person’s quirks will be, so take the time to notice them and work accordingly.
Make the right introductions. The client should know who’s working on their team – and the agency needs to know more players than just their client, if they’re going to be able to support their client well. Who does your new partner need to meet? Set those meetings up right away. And then follow up in a way that shows (rather than tells) the value each team member brings to the mix.
Think about what went wrong last time. This is hard. Nobody wants to look back and think about the bad times, and even less does anyone want to think about how they may have had a hand in the mistakes that were made. But everybody has bad relationships of some sort to look back on, and is there any other point to them but to help you learn from your mistakes? Perhaps you work fast, and your resulting impatience with others’ timelines isn’t always well-concealed. Perhaps having a large team got too unwieldy but you kept trying to make it work. Perhaps you didn’t listen to your client’s cues (spoken and unspoken) closely enough. Take time regularly to have an honest internal dialogue about what is and isn’t working. If you feel something isn’t quite right, come up with some concrete actions you can take to make an improvement. A proactive approach will ensure that you have time to course-correct before damage is done.
Help them help you. This is the real key to starting any relationship off well. You need to be sure you have what you need to succeed. The client needs to give the agency the information, time, and budget to get the job done. Of course, we often wish we had more budget and time, and it isn’t always available. But information is key. A partnership can be doomed from the get-go if the parties don’t take the time to communicate fully, not just about the present but about the past too. A new agency needs to know what worked, and what didn’t work – what was done and why, but also what wasn’t. A solid handoff from the previous agency to the current one is the hallmark of professionals – successful professionals.
Ultimately, forming a new client/agency partnership is all about communicating openly and fully to lay a strong foundation. To paraphrase Casablanca, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship…
Palio is an advertising agency revolutionizing pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing to create experiences that will Never Be Forgotten.