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What proverbial wisdom can teach us about client-agency relationships

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April 28, 2023 | 5 min read

In a modern age of business relationships, have we forgotten some tried-and-tested ways to build stronger business?

In a modern age of business relationships, have we forgotten some tried-and-tested ways to build stronger business?

This Easter, I was reminded of some of the proverbial wisdom that has been handed down over generations and was struck by how relevant some of it is to our industry and in particular, building better business relationships.

A ‘Judas kiss' and ‘I wash my hands of this’ are both examples of proverbial wisdom, stories and snippets that have passed down over thousands of years.

A Judas kiss, which many in our industry will know well, is where in the garden of Gesthemane Judas gave Jesus up to the mob that came to arrest him, by kissing him on the cheek and calling him ‘Master’. An act of betrayal disguised as an act of love.

Pontius Pilot, the Roman Prefect of Judea then gave in to the mob by stating ‘I wash my hands of it’ when asked to decide whether Jesus should be freed or executed.

Which means he refused to acknowledge his own responsibility. Again, unfortunately quite often relevant to our industry.

I have used proverbial wisdom throughout my life, learnt as a child in the 50’s in England from my parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and family friends. Who of course had them handed down from their own parents.

So over Easter hearing our Vicar tell these stories, as we do every year, I reflected on the problems I see within the marketing and advertising business, that could do with a good dose of proverbial wisdom.

If we as an industry understood and applied some of this wonderful wisdom to our business relationships, many things would improve both for marketers and agencies.

Aside from the two biblical examples above, which are truths about strength of character and values, here are some examples of how proverbial wisdom can improve business relationships.

It takes two to tango

At a base level this means that the client teams must deliver to their agency teams, as much as agency teams must deliver to their clients. Both parties must give each other every chance of commercial success in a fair and equitable manner, delivering intellectual, emotional and of course financial success. Get this balance right and it empowers both individuals and teams.

Less is more

We can relate this proverbial wisdom to how both clients and agencies kick off the engagement in campaign and project development through a brief.

Pieter-Paul von Weiler and Matt Davies' BetterBriefs project (I’d seriously urge you to take a good look) has identified the perilous state of briefing around the world. Too often agencies do the very heavy lifting. Incredibly 80% of marketers consider themselves good at writing briefs for their agencies, while only 10% of agencies believe their clients are good at writing briefs. So, 90% of agencies believe their clients are not good at writing briefs.

Just one of the worst of many traits, is that the client teams just dump down everything they can think off into often ten or more pages. So, individuals, as much as corporately, (including amazingly the 51% of marketers that have never been trained in writing any type of communication brief, let alone a concise, insightful one) need to apply at least ‘the less is more’ principle when engaging with their agencies.

Look before you leap

This is of course in our industry all about the thinking. People use all sorts of excuses both within agencies and client teams. ‘I’m so busy’, ’I have so many meetings,' 'The business doesn’t include/advise us earlier enough,' we are ‘always the last to know.’ So, these behaviors shave off the time both the marketing teams and the agencies need to deliver best in market work.

This is all fixable and it takes a well aligned client-agency team to demonstrate and sell in what is best for the business to gain a genuine seat at the c-suite table. This in turn then starts to change recalcitrant behavior. One very simple, but rarely applied discipline is ensuring that robust, honest and critically succinct (less is definitely more here) post campaign analysis are actioned and reported across the business and into the c-suite.

Finally, before I ignore my own advice, one final piece of wisdom. It is critical to the business we are all in.

Laughter is the best medicine

We are in a fun and creative business, full stop.

In my 50+ years in advertising anybody of any worth I have seen as being genuinely successful, has a sense of reality about themselves and the industry we are all in. They also use humor to defuse their own, and often their teams stress levels. Also, of course the difficult agency-client conversations that come up from time to time.

I’m extremely fortunate to work with and know a group CEO, who with 22+ agencies and 1,700 people in his remit, always has a lot on his mind. However, every time we chat by phone, text, or get together we always have a laugh. Sometimes ironic, sometimes to defuse some less than ideal news, but always great fun.

Apart from the innate understanding of that, laughter does also have some strong medical support as it enhances intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates heart, lungs and muscles.

Also, it demonstrably increases the endorphins that are released by your brain helping relieve stress responses.

God knows, we all need that sometimes.

Richard Goodrich is MD of Aprais in Australia. Together with his business partner (and wife) Annie he has built Aprais into the leading relationship management brand in Australia.

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