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How to improve accountability in client-agency relationships

by Kim Walker

May 16, 2022

Whether it’s about upholding expectations or taking responsibility for mistakes, accountability matters in business relationships. New figures from Aprais’ global database of more than 24,000 client-agency interactions show that accountability, in fact, is the second most important area for agencies to improve upon; second only to their functional performance – that is, their ability to do the job.

And agencies put accountability ahead of other behaviors in their clients like goal-setting and challenge in terms of importance.

It’s no wonder accountability carries such prominence. Managed well, accountability can increase the skills and confidence of team members, leading to more satisfying and productive relationships. It’s also a vital component for building trust. Business relationships thrive on open and honest communication, not defensiveness and attempts to turn responsibility into blame.

What is accountability?

We can define accountability as setting shared expectations and holding people to them – ideally, these expectations are linked to the client’s mission, values and goals. Accountability in relationships builds respect, confidence and trust and it’s a particularly important to leadership that accountability is authentic, not just limited to areas that the board deems important.

The new data shows that accountability scores among clients and agencies have improved over the last 10 years. When we look at the best-performing client-agency teams and compare them to the worst-performing, we can see there are big opportunities for agencies and clients alike to boost their scores. The question is, how?

Five tips for agencies to improve relationships by boosting accountability

1.) Accept responsibility for mistakes – this is the essence of accountability.

2.) Allocate and ensure a sufficient quality and depth of staff and try and minimize turnover. Continuity helps establish trust and confidence, vital for accountability.

3.) Make sure recommendations reflect a thorough understanding of the brand and its consumers.

4.) Maintain a positive service attitude among all team members, including evidence of commitment from agency management.

5.) Show initiative to collaborate with other agencies involved with the client’s business. For example, powerful value can be added when the media agency is consulted and involved with creative decisions.

Five tips for clients to improve relationships by boosting accountability

1.) Make sure briefs are clear and thorough for each project, and carry the commitment of the entire client team.

2.) Involve the agency where appropriate in research and strategic issues – they should share the brand’s strategic vision.

3.) Manage the priority of projects. For larger tasks, establish RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted and informed) for each project. Allow reasonable response time for the scale of the task or project.

4.) Be transparent and fair when dealing with multiple agencies to minimize competition and politics among them.

5.) Allocate good levels of staffing at a seniority suitable for the task, and minimize turnover which can disrupt workflow.

You can read the full report here.


Agency Business
client-agency relationships
business relationships