The secret to successful agency-client relationships

by Sasha Howell

August 29, 2017 at 11:43 am

30 years ago, the average tenure of an agency-client relationship was a little over seven years. By the mid-90s, the average dipped to five years. Now it’s not even three years, and, in most cases, fewer than 18 months. There’s a secret to the ones that last, a common thread to those agency-client dynamics that seem to defy even the strongest of negative influences. And it’s as simple as one word.


This one little word can save an agency-client relationship from future failure – especially if it’s said within the first 30 days of working together. The start of any new account is a critical time, as it sets the foundation for your relationship. It’s also when scope creep is most likely to occur. And if your agency can’t be honest with you in the beginning, when can they ever be?

That’s why one of the first activities we do with clients is to review the scope of work in great detail. From the project schedule and major milestones to the number of rounds of revisions allotted, every element is discussed, every expectation clearly communicated. Is that glamorous? Not in the slightest. It is necessary? Extremely.

It’s also why we run through a checklist of topics to set the ground rules for working together, including:

  • Who you’ll work with from your day-to-day account manager, key contacts across the agency’s disciplines plus an introduction to at least one of our managing partners.
  • How you like to work including communication style, internal approvals and what you need to demonstrate success.
  • What drives us to create the best work and how we live up to our philosophy “Outthink. Outperform.”
  • And office basics including hours of operation, standard response times and billing policies

At our agency, these conversations are part of a dedicated new client onboarding process that helps eliminate surprises and makes it much easier for either team to raise a hand when expectations shift.

We also take great care to start new engagements with thorough discovery of our client’s organization and their team – immersing ourselves in their day-to-day as much as possible. We invite them to join us at our offices to work collaboratively on strategic development and planning, building a process that is mutually beneficial and, more importantly, mutually agreed upon.

So if you’re looking for an agency to work with you, not just for you, give them the freedom to say no. And in return, you’re likely to forge a partnership that can stand the test of time.

August 29, 2017 at 11:43 am

Sasha Howell