Choose partners carefully, enjoy lasting relationships

While I certainly don't have a magic formula for building successful agency-client relationships, I can provide you with my opinion on what makes them work or fail, based on my experiences over 35 years in the advertising industry.

While I certainly don’t have a magic formula for building successful agency-client relationships, I can provide you with my opinion on what makes them work or fail, based on my experiences over 35 years in the advertising industry.

By definition, a relationship is simply an emotional connection between two people. Like in any human relationship, a business relationship must be based on emotional connections, honesty, mutual trust and above all, respect.

In fact, selecting a business partner is very similar to selecting a human partner. In a personal relationship, two people meet and are drawn to each other by a number of factors – chemistry, likeability and looks, followed by values and open communication. Next comes a mutual love and respect for each other that eventually leads to a strong, healthy and hopefully

enduring relationship.

Like any good

relationship, a successful agency-client partnership, which leads to outstanding marketing communications and results, takes time to build. Unfortunately, in many agency selection processes, not enough time is given for the client and agency to really get to know each other.

Why? Because far too often, clients are interested in a quick and superficial search process rather than a long-term, lasting

relationship. Even the search consultants,

who try to make the process more effective, often don’t have any more luck picking the right partner. The correct decision must

come down to having the two parties,

(client and agency), really liking and trusting each other.

I believe most agency-client relationships fail today simply because the process doesn’t take into consideration the importance of building a human relationship. They fail because both partners either don’t establish trust

or mutual respect, or this breaks down.

They don’t succeed because good communication isn’t established or it ceases. Certainly, everyone in this business has

had relationships go bad due to unrealistic

demands or personality


At DDB, we’ve been lucky to have many successful and emotional agency-client relationships. Why? We’ve worked really hard to develop not only business relationships, but also human relationships.

This has meant turning down business, when necessary. Several years ago we had a very large, important client in the service industry. This particular client, along with their competitors, had unionized employees. A situation occurred where a union group with a competitor went on strike, shutting down the competitors’ stores. Our client thought they could leverage the competitor’s misfortune and asked us to develop a full campaign with creative and media.

The agency did what was asked and we made the presentation to the client. At the end of the presentation, which the client liked and approved, the senior executive asked me: ‘Frank, what would you do?’ I told him simply I wouldn’t do it for two reasons. First, there was a risk that by running this campaign the client’s unionized employees, along with associated unions, would be offended and alienated, possibly hurting their future business. Second, the competitor was closed so they would most likely get most of their

business anyway.

We turned down a lot of money on this project but I felt it was the right thing

to do. Because of our honest approach

the trust that was developed between agency and client was fantastic and we

enjoyed a five-year-long relationship.

Only when agencies and clients try to better understand the characteristics of the company they are partnering with and place an importance on building emotional connections, will their relationships be successful and long lasting. Then, and only then, can an outstanding and loving business relationship, one that produces great work and results, begin.

A 35-year veteran of the advertising industry, Frank Palmer is CEO/chairman of DDB Canada, based in Vancouver.