Keeping the Relationship Alive
“Can we still be friends?”
At one time or another, most of us have played a role in this conversation. Hopefully, the awkwardness of that situation is ancient history by now but the psychology surrounding this oft-used phrase is still relevant to agency/client relationships today.
To me, the basis of this phrase (other than the desire to let the other person down easy – small consolation for breaking his/her heart!) is the need to feel that the time, effort and commitment invested in the relationship was not in vain. Even at its romantic conclusion, there is an understanding that, in one form or another, the relationship should continue – maybe not the way the recipient of this phrase intended, but go on just the same.
Recently, I’ve been in situations with a few clients where the agency has invested a significant amount of time, resources and, most importantly, intellect on projects – substantial projects – only to find ourselves searching for a way to continue the relationship once the project is completed.
In the “Agency of Record” world of yesterday, these initial jobs with clients were the seeds sown and grown into a long and beneficial relationship for both the agency and the client. And while this should still be the goal of any client/agency relationship, I understand it may no longer be a realistic expectation. The environment has changed and, regrettably, agencies are now often viewed more as vendors than partners. Being the “low bidder” frequently trumps relationship-building.
In this new environment, I believe there is still much to be gained by both client and agency by expending extra effort to keep the relationship alive. The financial benefits to the agency may be most obvious, but the value goes beyond compensation. And what about the client? What are the benefits of an on-going agency relationship to the marketer? Well, start by thinking about all the time it takes to get an agency up to speed on the background, culture and nuances of one’s organization. By moving from agency to agency – based on ‘low bid’ or other short-term considerations – the client is sacrificing the investment made in helping the agency “get it”. Sometimes, this can be a very time intensive process for the client. It seems logical to think longer-term when it comes to a return on that investment.
For example, maybe the client can get a web site produced less expensively by going with a new provider that happened to have a lower bid. It may be easy to overlook, however, the extra hours of explaining the key players, history, culture, goals, etc. to the “new kid” at the commencement of each new project.
I realize times have changed. This is a new disposable society. Still, one aspect is as important today as it was decades ago (maybe more so), and that is the need to maintain and cultivate relationships. You never know when and how you may want to rekindle them.
Your high school ex-girlfriend had it right about wanting to stay friends. You both expended too much time and effort to totally abandon the relationship.
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