Increasingly, companies are partnering with third-party specialists to help them better communicate with their constituents.

As a result, more often than ever, marketing departments are working with agencies. Moreover, a CMO's relationship with his or her agencies is a critical factor in the overall success of any marketing plan.So, having a highly functional, intertwined relationship is vital.

However, as any CMO knows, it's not always easy to achieve this level of synchronization. As a former client-side CMO, I've come to recognize the agency/client relationship can be contentious.

To shed light on the subject, I interviewed David Srere, co-CEO and chief strategy officer of Siegel+Gale (where I work) and Troy Williams, vice-president of Global Brand Identity at American Express. In addition to being drivers of their own long-term relationship, David and Troy have experienced a multitude of client/agency relationships, both successful and unsuccessful.

In our talk, we found five main factors across all productive and enduring client/agency relationships.

1. Shared Values

One guiding star in selecting the right agency partner is finding a firm where both parties have common values but distinct expertise.

Values must be consistent for an enduring relationship to take root. Whether a commitment to an excellent product or a philosophy of constant introspection and improvement, complementary values allow us to integrate deeply even if we both bring different proficiencies to the table. Trust and honesty pave the way for open and honest dialogue, which lays the foundation for a strong relationship.

While searching for a partner, there is one cardinal rule: play nice! Often in business proceedings, both parties adopt a hard-edge approach, but long-term relationships must be based on respect and trust. Troy and David both agree: People want to work with people they like. We believe that being nice and respectful from the introduction will set the tone for the relationship as one of partnership and not contention.

2. Clarity in Communication

Excellent communication is the foundation of any good relationship. From the outset, we align on the cadence of communications, both in terms of style, frequency, and form factor. Each organization has distinct ways of working. We decide whether chat, email, or phone will be the quickest way to get a timely answer and gauge whether end-of-week recaps or step-by-step updates are the most efficient way to communicate progress.

Determining early on, the best modes of communication helps us ensure a seamless interface and remove unnecessary friction from the relationship.

3. Rituals

Partaking in shared rituals is a powerful team-building mechanism. Consistent, casual meetings between the teams at both the management and team levels encourage this camaraderie.

For example, David and Troy enjoy biweekly breakfast chats to stay closely synced on their work. For the team, your weekly meeting or call can come with your favorite snacks, but rituals as simple as regular full-team happy hours or off-site events can be extremely constructive. We start early: When new members join the Siegel+Gale/American Express team, they are taken out for lunch and subject to "20 Questions" from the team that cover their personal and professional life.

4. Team Continuity

There are two important aspects of team continuity: hiring and succession planning.

In the Siegel+Gale and American Express relationship, both firms have a direct say in the hiring practices of the other company. Senior management on both teams are involved in the interview process and even have veto power for hiring decisions. A hire on either side is a hire for the entire team, and both sides should take the process very seriously.

At some point, employees will inevitably leave. We consider it business-essential for both sides of relationship to have a thoughtful succession plan to ensure that the relationship remains consistent regardless of staff departures.

5. Regular Reviews

Predictable reviews are a critical part of the process. Even the best relationships need regular resets.

We believe clients should (once or twice a year) formally evaluate their agencies based on the current state of the relationship and work completed. This evaluation is not just for the agency. Agencies need to be able to have a say in the future of the relationship with their clients. 

"It's not fun, but we have had to 'fire' clients when it wasn't working out and we weren't aligned on larger goals," David says.

* * *

Optimizing agency/client relationships is now a critical business success factor, and these best practices, distilled from David and Troy's deep experience, should be kept top of mind during all stages of the relationship to help ensure maximal success for all involved.

A thriving partnership can be a powerful tool to propel both of your businesses forward, and it will only grow stronger every year.

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Five Traits of Productive and Enduring Relationships Between Agencies and Clients

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image of Margaret Molloy

Margaret Molloy is the global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale, based in New York.

LinkedIn: Margaret Molloy

Twitter: @MargaretMolloy