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How to Find Your Ideal Agency Partner

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Thoughts to consider when courting a new client-agency relationship.

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True client-agency partnerships are all too rare. “If only my agency would ______.” And conversely, “I wish my client was more _______.”  Everyone knows when it’s working, and when it’s not. You can feel it. Yet diagnosing and treating the partnership parasites can be very challenging.

One time-honored method for client-agency matchmaking is the agency review process. Like a dating service for marketers, each party joins the hunt with their intellect, instincts, and emotions fully engaged. It can be exciting, scary, awkward and much more. But the common aim is clear for all: to find that perfect partner.

A recent AdWeek article debates the merit of a review process that features spec (free) creative. Mike Wolfsohn, partner at California agency High, Wide & Handsome doesn’t hold back:

Such exercises “demean the profession”…it’s a “reality show to impress some panel of judges. Pitches rarely resemble what a working relationship would be like between agency and client.”

Whether spec creative is part of the process or not, clients and agencies should keep their eyes on the prize: a great relationship that leads to great work. You can’t have one without the other.

So how do we get there? Here are a few thoughts when considering a new client-agency relationship:

  • Invest time up front to get to know each other. Are your teams compatible? Do you connect? Are there potential conflicts or hurdles that will be deal-breakers?
  • Be clear about what both parties want and need. Much pain can be avoided if you can openly share expectations. Put your best feet forward, but make sure you push past the glitz of the pitch to the daily realities of a partnership.
  • Rather than an RFP and spec creative, consider a trial project or campaign. Some real-world experience will provide a truer test of compatibility.
  • Be wary of “killer creative” in the pitch. Don’t elevate a single creative exercise over essential ingredients like strategic thinking, experience, talent, cost-effectiveness, and relationship.

We came in second in a recent agency review. I’m not going to lie to you, it was a bummer. But looking back, I believe that we represented DKY with authenticity and impact. We won’t (and shouldn’t) win them all, but if we simply strive to Ring True in our new business approach, great client partnerships will follow.