Open relationships can be difficult. Navigating them is tricky. Egos get bruised. Hearts get broken.
Just to be clear: we’re talking business relationships. Or more specifically, client/agency relationships.
And yet, despite how painful, awkward (and potentially bad for business) this situation can be, we’re seeing it more and more.
Clients’ business is just too volatile to expect one agency to have all the answers. And so, clients are going out and mingling. They’re finding a handful of agencies to handle various bits and pieces, and then relying on internal teams to (not really) stitch all these tactical projects together.
What tends to go missing in this scenario is the strategic creative leadership under which all this work can live. Sure, sometimes clients can handle this on their own, but more often than not, clients lack the skill set, personnel, and, frankly, objectivity to do this effectively.
We recently took one of our clients through an extensive rebranding exercise. There were a lot of other agencies already at the table (research, strategy, messaging, digital, experience, etc.). We came in about halfway through and provided some fundamental creative direction, quickly helping the client align the smart work they were already doing under one big brand idea. Then we quietly showed ourselves to the door.
We’re happy to say that the client had a very successful launch—and all those other agencies are still gainfully employed.
A while later, however, this client wanted to know if we would plan, organize, and moderate a summit of sorts among their various strategic and creative agencies to brainstorm a new content platform.
At first, each agency saw the creative challenge through the lens of their specific discipline. Pretty quickly we realized what was needed. Like a coxswain in a boatful of powerful rowers, it was our job to get them all pulling together in the same direction instead of going around in circles.
By this point in the relationship, everyone knew that we weren’t there to siphon business away from anyone else. We were just there to leverage every agency’s strengths on behalf of the client. The summit was a success. And everyone walked away from the project having worked on something beyond their traditional scope.
Happily, we continue being called on by this client, and have even established ongoing partner relationships with a few of the other agencies.
Was this client our biggest moneymaker last year? No, not even close. But will they keep calling us? Probably.
And that’s the world we live in now. The old-fashioned client/agency relationship model is relaxing. Projects are succeeding because of broad-mindedness and flexibility. And the best creative partners are leaving their egos at the door and building businesses that allow them to enjoy the ride.