The Future of Client-Agency Relationships

May 27, 2019

By Evan Pitchie

In this article, I share my interpretation from a panel discussion at C2 Montreal on what makes a successful relationship between agencies and clients.

The speakers were:

  • Bekah Sirrine (Head of Global Creative of Instagram)
  • Ian Daly (Head of Brand Strategy of Live Nation)
  • Bertrand Cesvet (CEO of Sid Lee)
  • Nicole Jacek (Co-Head of Design of Wieden + Kennedy).

So, let’s get into it!

Your Value as an Agency

One of the first things that struck a chord with me was when one of the panelists said:

"Your value as an agency is only as good as the work you’ve done."

Similar to a resume or work portfolio, the presentation of past projects is important in establishing trust and credibility. Potential clients want to know the kind of clients you’ve worked with and the scope of the projects you’ve worked on to make parallels to how you can deliver results for their business. Selecting the wrong agency for a mandate can lead to lost opportunities and for the client representative to get fired if things go wrong. Showing your work adds a level of reassurance in proving that you are the best fit.

Another reason for the importance of showing your work is for the recruitment value. Talent and fit is something that is proving to be much more difficult than most people tend to imagine. If you showcase the great work you are doing, it is more likely that great people will apply to work at your company.

In-house or Agency or Both

In-house teams and external agencies shouldn’t work against each other. If both sides demonstrate the same shared ambition then the agency should be brought in as a complement to the in-house team.

Agencies add value for their ability to think from an external perspective. The in-house department knows the brand inside-out, which can lead to tunnel vision and too much repetition of ideas. An agency, even if it is familiar with the client’s brand, can offer an independent perspective that can lead to novel ideas. Combining the institutional knowledge of the client with the objective point of view of the agency leads to a better quality of work.

Re-framing the Agency-Client Relationship

The typical service-in-exchange-of-payment model between an agency and a client is dying. Mutual trust needs to be given from the beginning in order for both parties to feel engaged in the relationship.

An example of this is when the President of Sid Lee shared how at the start of their relationship with Cirque du Soleil, they were given all-access. It allowed them to get a better understanding of the company. Both companies still work together, 20 years later.