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July 30, 2018   |   5 min read

Agency-Client Relations Should Feel Like Friendship

Alison Trickett   |   Chief Growth Officer

Success is shaped by how good of a rapport you’re willing to build.

Working at an agency comes with a tight-knit sense of community. Smaller teams and long hours spent collaborating yield a certain closeness. You truly know what’s going on with each other—a virtue easily lost among larger corporations. But what’s it like working with an agency? After 15+ years in the industry, we strive for the same level of friendship that exists internally: empathetic, understanding and always ready for a good time.

It’s fitting then, that International Day of Friendship is today (even though coming together and creating something amazing is worth celebrating any day of the year). Here are five ways we apply the laurels of friendship to every partnership. These honorable traits have led to award-winning work near and far. As it turns out, friendship knows no boundaries.

 

1. If you can only be one thing, be dependable.

There’s a lot of trust behind partnership. It’s not something we take lightly. You can completely transform a business for the better. More amazing still is that someone is entrusting you—believing in your expertise—to do that for them. The best way you can repay that trust is with a hearty dose of dependability.

We’ve all had the friend who cancels plans just as you’re about to head out the door. Don’t be that friend. All it takes is one moment of disappointment for confidence to start to wane. Always do what you say you’re going to do, be it the small or very big things. Embrace micro-opportunities to foster trust like being on time for meetings and responding to emails promptly. Pull through on the defining moments, too—we’re looking at you upcoming launch date. First you earn the respect, then you maintain it.     

Contrary to Hollywood films, the most fulfilling friendships aren’t self-sustaining. They require care and reflection every step of the way.

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2. Teachers were right: honesty is the best policy. 

Inevitably, a clash of opinions will arise. Passivity is the easy way out, while unjustified defensiveness is an absolute no-go. Think of a babysitter who kindly points out a behavioral issue happening with a child. They’re not going out of their way to concern or scold you. They’re taking an active stance in helping you—it comes with the best of intentions. Situations like this are frequent challenges in agency-client relations, but they don’t have to be if handled the right away.

We want all our client projects to reach their full potential. If a client is planning a campaign that may be a poor business decision in the long-run, we don’t want to let that slip through the cracks for fear of dispute. That won’t help anyone, and does a disservice to the client’s investment and overarching goals. Instead, like any worthy friend would, we broach the topic with empathy and positivity. If one idea won’t work, we can find another solution that will.

 

3. Offer support through the good and not-so-good.

Many believe that the human spirit is hard-wired to seek out companionship. Friendship may be the ultimate expression of this. What is it about friendship that fills us with feelings of such warmth and appreciation? Support—the knowing you have someone there to back you up no matter what happens. We’re not naïve enough to think life is always sunshine, either. Strong partners celebrate the good just as much as they squash the unfortunate.

Simply paying attention is the best way to do this. Become invested in your clients and their organizations. A working relationship might end once 5 p.m. hits. Friendship? No way. Attend client events to show your support. Send off a congratulatory card when the new website finally launches. You might even send a more personal gift when a client welcomes a new arrival into their family. These meaningful gestures don’t need to be forced. They’re just part of being human. Working with the right agency will feel like one big family—never disconnected and always compassionate.

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4. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a listening ear.

The dialogues of friendship are based on openness, understanding and expression without judgement. One-sided conversations are a fast track to pushing friends away. Willingness to listen demonstrates your investment in the topic at hand. It affirms that you don’t have a “my way or the highway” approach to life. At all levels of agency work, from strategy to creative, accommodating for feedback is crucial. At an even more basic level, the relief of feeling heard or freely thinking aloud makes our clients feel comfortable. We want them to love coming to our office—not feel as though it’s sucking the life out of their spirit.

An environment focused on listening first can make work sessions come alive, leading to meaningful discussion and veritable breakthroughs. The time to start listening isn’t at the end of the project, but on first meeting. Working in a vacuum? Not fun. Our favorite aspect of agency life is learning and building off one another. So, remember: before you’re all expertise, be all ears.

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5. Fun! Fun! Fun!

Uptight friendships can put a damper on things. They detract from some of the all-important closeness we’ve talked about encouraging. We want our clients to know we’re serious about the work, but can indulge the lighter moments as well. Likewise, we don’t expect them to always be perfectly buttoned up either. Friends who insert humor into the daily grind, remain positive in tense situations and are always up for an impromptu get-together tend to be the ones we gravitate toward.

When you’re deeply focused on serious work, the act of being too serious can start to become a detriment. It clouds thinking and introduces anxiety to all parties involved. A healthy balance lets us handle the unavoidable curveballs, yet allows for five minutes at the start of every meeting for random jokes and pop culture talk. Work bonds are formed in these micro-moments, and from them sprouts a satisfying agency-client friendship. Smile, laugh and get down to business when the time comes. 

 

Well my friend, it’s good-bye… for now.

But not forever. Best friends are hard to keep apart. We’ve learned first-hand how each of these five friendship traits contribute to long-term client satisfaction. People working with other people they enjoy—no egoistical hierarchy in sight—is a beautiful thing (the thing that makes us love coming to work every day). If you’re looking for a new friend, just say hi. You can never have too many, you know.

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