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How to maintain healthier client-agency relationships - and what to do if they fail

September 13, 2021

The best-performing client-agency relationships are defined by high scores on attributes including Challenge, Communication and Trust, new data from Aprais shows.

Conversely among the lowest-scoring agencies and clients, whilst all characteristics score poorly, Challenge is the attribute that most notably lags behind.

This demonstrates that a willingness from both parties to ask questions, take risks and challenge the status quo could improve client-agency relationships.

The figures were drawn from Aprais’ global database of more than 23,000 client-agency interactions spanning 20 years.

Evaluations are built around the agency-client scope of work and include traditional disciplines and skills such as Leadership, Financial Management and Collaboration.

Aprais also assign behaviour traits to each question in the database to ascertain how the characteristics of Accountability, Challenge, Goals, Functional, Communication, Resilience and Trust affect team relationships.

How to improve failing relationships

The data indicates that even failing relationships between clients and agencies can be turned around, avoiding lengthy and costly pitch processes, if both parties support the process.

Figures show that a bi-annual process of two-way evaluations can improve relationships, and that scores increase with each evaluation as key learnings are identified and action taken.

Low performing relationships in particular see marked improvements in all scores over time, across all scopes of work.

For agencies evaluated 5-9 times scores for creative client-agency teams improve by 24% for the agency and 20% for the client. This pattern also appears when examining scores for media and digital.

Beth Lewis, head of client services at Aprais, said: ‘It’s clear that regular evaluation and constructive action planning which addresses the key developmental areas for both parties can turn around a failing relationship and provide the framework for positive improvement.’

Five common pitfalls when trying to improve client-agency relationships

1. Standard evaluation methodology across the company as part of the supplier relationship management process. A rigid structure isn’t suitable for communications disciplines because the output depends upon the input from the client, and this model encourages a supplier mentality rather than a partnership.

2. Evaluating relationships to manage the agency’s remuneration. Whilst linking agency fees to the outcome of the evaluation is common practice, this should not take precedence over improving the relationship between client and agency.

3. One-way evaluation of the agency only. This ignores the input of the client which can impact performance, for example poor briefing will lead to poorer quality work. A process where both parties evaluate each other can encourage improvements on both side and allow agencies to share examples of best practice from their client base.

4. Annual or adhoc evaluations. Our data shows that six-monthly evaluations optimise the opportunities for consistent improvement.

5. Internal evaluations with performance assessed over time. Using external benchmarks provides context for different scopes of work and allows for comparison with similar relationships.


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