Client-Agency Relationship

There’s a reason you never hear about Client-Agency Vendorships

May 26th, 2016 Posted by Growth, Insight, Transformation 0 comments on “There’s a reason you never hear about Client-Agency Vendorships”

In marketing you truly reap what you sow.

In marketing and communications, time plus experience combine to help provide hard evidence of what works extraordinarily well vs. what constitutes the far more frequent base hit rather than home run outcome.

Meaning: as I look back at the moments of transformational change and outsized results and success in building a client’s business, a common theme recurs each and every time.

Client relationships founded on a true platform of partnership, collaboration and immersion feeds the strategic and creative engine that can help change the course of a client’s future business results.

And the opposite is also true: client relationships founded on a more ‘vendor path’ – supplying a tactical service to fill the need for publicity, content, social media outreach, et al. – certainly delivers the thing required but falls short of a truly successful marketing collaboration. It is always partnership that inspires businesses like ours to push for the immersive 360-degree relationship instead of supplying just the tactical tool in every engagement.


Because the truly big ideas – those that have the power to influence business and brand behavior – don’t emerge in a vacuum. They are more likely to manifest under conditions where the deeper level of engagement and strategic exchange supplies ‘fuel to fire’ transformational thinking and change.

Here’s the best-case scenario:

  1. Client invites agency ‘all the way in’ – disclosing business strategies, seeking collaboration on design of marketing plans; educating the agency on all aspects of the operation from sourcing to R&D to manufacturing to sales to customer relationships. This naturally brings the agency team into contact with more key decision makers across a broader section of the company’s operations from which the agency can use this knowledge to identify opportunities and bring forward best thinking on the client’s behalf.
  1. Armed with this knowledge the agency can legitimately help the client optimize and refine its higher purpose – a strategic mission that puts the business on a path to full customer-centricity and relevance. This informs every aspect of how the business operates and leads to outsized performances and gains. Simply because: people no longer buy products and services, they acquire meaning, belief and connection to who they are.
  1. This client says typically, “ We trust you and want your involvement and fresh perspective. We want your thinking even if it involves a different point of view. We want you to have the access and information you need – to be the kind of partner that helps us grow and succeed.”

The less optimal scenario:

On the other side you may typically hear: “we want [pick the tactic] to help build awareness for our [pick the initiative, usually a product]. The request will be prescriptive on the tool required to do the job. And inevitably leads to backing a strategy into a tactic. Sometimes that works out and sometimes it just doesn’t. There’s inevitably a focus on budget and minimizing the related spend, because the project is a placeholder in a pre-determined plan and budget the agency had no role in creating or even consuming.

Access to information will be restricted to what the firm must know to execute the program, i.e., product features/benefits. The agency will likely never be invited to internal planning conversations and the role remains locked to supplying the tool and its implementation.

So “creativity,” in this scenario, is limited to only messaging, scripts, themes, visuals and other aspects of production and/or distribution of outreach.

What’s the right path?

At a fundamentally deeper level, understanding and knowledge are the precursors to enterprise-level creativity. The kind of thinking that helps direct and inform a company’s priorities, behaviors, operations, internal systems, product development, brand positioning and meaning, as well as communications.

When all these elements become integrated and synergy is achieved, the outcomes can lead to grand slam growth, new businesses, market share jumps and sustainable advantage in the marketplace.

You would think from this description that all companies would immediately opt for the deeper engagement. But sadly, it is the exception and not the rule. Culturally it requires an openness to discovery and willingness to trust, usually bound to a belief that good agencies offer more than tool creation, they (should) offer strategic perspective.

Organizations reap what they sew in this regard. Agency-as-partner leads to better work and outcomes, while Agency-as-vendor leads to tool deployment. The former helps inform the future, while the latter delivers on a section of the marketing plan schedule.

I like the sound of partner.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent Healthy Living. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for  higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.This is a required field!