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Five Reasons Your Client-Agency Communications (and Relationship) Are Breaking Down

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Like personal relationships, your client-agency partnership depends on open lines of communication. Even a relationship that starts on the rosiest of notes will quickly fizzle without regular contact.

Poor communication in marketing also can lead to missed opportunities and cost you some serious money. And no matter whether the client or agency drops the ball, the result is ineffective service.

After all, how is an agency supposed to deliver positive results when it doesn't take the time to understand your company? And how are you supposed to get what you want if you aren't transparent and don't share valuable information?

If communication is limited, there's no real value in the relationship—period.

Here are five reasons why communication issues arise and how you, as the client, can eliminate them from your future partnerships.


1. There's little trust

A whopping 98% of clients and agencies consider trust a cornerstone of their relationship, according to a survey by RPA and USA Today.

Moreover, the survey results revealed a deep disconnect between belief and acuity: Nearly 90% of clients maintain they freely express their thoughts, but less than 40% of agency partners concur. And though 90% of agencies think they know their clients' business, just 65% of clients hold the same opinion.

When Tim Leake, senior vice-president of growth and innovation at RPA, went from working on the agency side to working as a third-party consultant, he noticed something startling: "Clients said things to me they never said when I was working agency side. Over lunch, a client once said to me, 'Honestly, I simply don't trust any of my agencies to actually solve my marketing problems.' That got me wondering, 'What else aren't they saying out loud?'"

As the client, you need to be able to trust your agency partner to cultivate a productive relationship. Building trust begins with frequent contact—when things are going well and especially when they're going south. Once communication starts to dissolve, your trust will fade, and an effective campaign will lose its luster.

Having worked on both the client and agency sides, I can tell you that relationships work best when you are transparent and working toward the same goals. After all, you both want to succeed.

2. There's no unity

When you and your agency aren't on the same page in terms of goals and methods, it becomes impossible to produce positive results. A lack of unification leads to misaligned objectives, rendering the entire campaign useless.

Before you pair up with an agency, make sure it delivers services based on models that link price, performance, and value. All activity needs to be tracked, measured, and synthesized, and all those data points need to be synchronized with your objectives. Once you and your agency get to a point in which the marketing and procurement functions are unified, everyone will reap the rewards of a fruitful partnership.

3. No one is on the same page

A total of 56% of clients believe the agencies they work with are more interested in selling their methods than meeting the specific needs of each client. But with 77% of clients saying they view agencies as partners, this doesn't make much sense.

You and your agency must be operating on the same page. You can increase profit levels for each other, but agencies first must get to know you on an interpersonal basis. Remember: Less than 40% of agencies believe clients speak candidly with them. As a client, work with your agency point people to let them know exactly what you want out of the partnership.

Educate your agency on your business, and ask the same from your agency. Once everyone paints a clear picture that reflects each party's values, services, etc., you can ensure a healthy relationship that fosters growth for all involved parties.

4. Discussions about money get fuzzy

There's no better way to kill a client-agency relationship than money issues. You will do well to discuss money upfront with your agency. If the agency charges you more than you anticipated, your relationship will quickly turn sour. Prevent this kind of tension by opening up clear channels of communication to discuss billing—whether that discussion happens via email, through phone calls, or in person.

5. Everyone wants smooth sailing

There's no perfect agency. There's no perfect client. It's not always going to be smooth sailing.

Keeping this in mind, both you and your agency must speak up when a problem needs to be remedied. Respect each other's opinions. Feedback is paramount to success, but when the lines of communication are barely open, the agency can't serve you optimally.

* * *

As a client, you must keep in mind that not all agencies are the same. Agencies and clients must think about how well they will pair together, and if the match isn't solid, it may be time to look elsewhere. You should determine your preferences, and agencies should also have the gumption to say "no" when they know you aren't a good fit.

A good client-agency relationship ultimately is about being honest and maintaining open communication.


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Sarah Clark is the president of Mitchell Communications Group, an award-winning PR firm that creates real conversations among people, businesses, and brands.

LinkedIn: Sarah Clark

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