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August 16, 2006
Keeping the (Creative) Romance Alive

The strongest agency-client relationships can be described in terms of a marriage. First there’s a courtship, then a commitment, then the creative sparks that help produce a healthy and thriving business. But how do you stoke a great creative partnership after a decade or more together?

Even when you find your soul mate, you still have to nurture your relationship. Those same tips you hear on talk shows apply directly to a good business partnership. And when you sustain great “romance,” clients will enjoy strong creative work—which leads to great results.

First and foremost, there has to be an immediate attraction. You have to have an affinity for each other from the get-go. And when the going gets tough, everyone needs to remember that first meeting, and the energy and promise it held.

But if affinity is the start of any good relationship, where do you go after that?

Next, it takes open, honest communication. Our best client relationships involve what I call “tough love.” We are open to their issues, criticisms, and compliments. And then clients ask us, What are they doing that has been helping us? And what have they been doing that hinders us? It’s not one spouse lecturing the other but partners having an honest talk about how they’re feeling.

You also need to mix it up. What if you ate the same meal every night? Or wore the same outfit? You’d get bored, right? You have to keep it fresh. Break out of character. Don’t get stuck in a creative rut. Keep your target audience on their toes. If you have a client that continually surprises customers with improvements in service or pricing, your creative should reflect that.

In addition to creatively mixing it up, you need to challenge and motivate each other to take your work to the next level. Dare to evolve a creative campaign, even if it’s performing well. You need to rock the boat sometimes and take a few chances to get that great ROI.

When you do hit those numbers, you also need to recognize and celebrate each other’s successes. To do that, you need to embed measurement in everything you do. It’s all about cause and effect. For every dollar spent, what will the client get out of it? You need to prove programs are working and providing significant ROI. It also paves the way for future investments.

Both client and agency need to stay focused on the future. Keep your eye not only on what is happening today but tomorrow and beyond—so you can come to your client with recommendations for driving their business one, five, even 10 years from now.

It’s also important to build teams that are united around the same vision and purpose so they work seamlessly together. Sometimes our agency teams think they work for the client. And that’s fine with us. Both sides must internalize and evangelize the brand platform.

Another key component to any great relationship is keeping a sense of humor. How many of us fall for someone who makes us laugh? Humor helps us keep things in perspective, so when you hit those rough patches—and there are always rough patches—you can diffuse the situation.

You also need to actively push for greatness in everything you do. How many of you would say, “I’d like to have an average marriage?” We all want the best possible relationship we can have. A good client will encourage you to be strong, to engage in a lively debate. You then drive toward the best possible outcome.

Anyone can have a great short-term relationship. But how many partnerships can really stand the test of time? A foundation of trust comes as a result of delivering results consistently, on both sides. Then, when you hit roadblocks or speed bumps, it’s not about fixing the relationship. It’s about fixing the specific problem.

I believe you can apply these 10 principles to your own client relationships, whether they are long-term partnerships or brand new encounters. And if you want to reach your golden anniversary in business, both sides have to work on it every day.

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As president and COO of Draftfcb, Laurence Boschetto is charged with building a cohesive agency network around the world, while ensuring operational excellence and growth. Prior to assuming responsibility for Draftfcb's global operations, he had served in the same role at Draft and Draft New York, where he and his team tripled the agency’s size between 2002 and 2006 and instilled a “Best in Class” ethos into the agency while reaching all-time-high levels of profitability.

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