It Takes Two To Make An Agency/Client Relationship Work

A new year is always good to review what you, as an organization and as individuals, did well the year before and what you could improve upon. Here at the AHA office, we’ve been doing a pretty strong inventory of 2009. We turn seven in 2010 and while it might not be a typical “milestone” number, we’re quite excited about our upcoming anniversary on April 1. (We know, April Fools Day!)

During our period of “taking stock,” I was also given the task of writing a proposal for a potential new client. I love writing proposals and plans, learning about a new organization and, sometimes, a new field. I found myself thinking about some of the key learnings we have taken away from last year as I wrote the proposal.

In 2009, we had two clients that we had to let go. One, because they didn’t keep to the contract in terms of payment. They were consistently several months behind and that creates a negative relationship, no matter what the reason. We pay our suppliers on time and we expect that we will be paid on time.

We parted ways with the other client for a very different reason. It was because there was little or no participation or engagement in the process from the client side. I don’t mean that meetings were rebooked or that revisions to documents or approvals took a little longer than expected, that’s normal in our world. It was much more than that and, I think, the challenge for some organizations is that it is cultural. It happens all the time. It’s not just with external support like your PR agency or your HR consultant, it happens internally also.

We can’t do it without you. Great PR is a collaborative effort. We have clients who are incredibly busy and they still find time to meet with us either via telephone, Skype or in person. (I am famous for being wherever you need to me to be to meet: 6 a.m. breakfast, at your gym, on a plane to Toronto, at the airport…) We do somersaults to make it work and our clients know and appreciate that. We need to work in partnership with our clients to get the best results and to deliver on what we are hired to do.

It’s never easy to tell a client that it’s not working, but I think it is crucial to do that. AHA has earned a strong reputation for delivering results, developing solid strategic plans, and working with clients to implement those plans. I think that a component of our role is to develop, manage and nuture the relationship, but it is a role that our clients need to take ownership of as well. There is an energy that happens when a client makes us a part of the team, keeps the lines of communications open, keeps us in the loop, and respects the process (and us). When these things are done, great things happen. Which is what we live for. And saying that, I think I am going to refine our proposal process to include a section on the importance of a good agency/client relationship. Put it upfront and showcase what we need to do great work. That way, when we review 2010, there won’t be any clients that we have had to let go.

Do you ever have to let clients go? We’d love to hear why.

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