Over the last decade, business relationships in advertising, marketing and consulting have evolved from long-term standing partnerships to transactional commodity relationships. The change has prompted hand wringing and whining but very little effort to restore what once were ironclad business partnerships.
Observing several of the remaining intact long-term business relationships, 8 attributes seem to be the glue that keeps things together.
Cultural Fit. Organizations and brands, like people, come at the world with a point of view and see their mission through that lens. Connecting two organizations is a process of aligning and sharing these perspectives and synchronizing attitudes and workflow to achieve them. Expertise, staff composition, industry norms, best practices, and similar management styles are factors that contribute to a committed connection.
Personal Connections. People buy people. Then goods and services get transacted. Long-term assignments frequently turn on the connections between individuals leading each team. Being able to be understood, speak freely, share confidences, and collaborate frequently relies on personal insights and friendships. Periods of uncertainty are navigated by people who know and like each other.
Continuity. A long-standing relationship depends on having people who know the business, know each other and know where the bones are buried. The idea of being dedicated to an account for years is an alien notion for most agency and consultant staffers. In too many cases, this reflects a lack of planning or imagination on the part of management. But a team constantly swapping out players is destined for a short-term play.
Listening. Successful companies are complex organisms. To operate effectively within, partners need to listen carefully to the party line, the strategic plan, key leaders and the jungle drums. Being able to gather intelligence across an enterprise and evaluate it in terms of direction, budgets and marketplace developments are the critical outputs of skillful listening. Being able to tap into thinking and feeling at all levels of an organization should be top priority.
Understanding the Business. Every long relationship is rooted in a deep, ongoing commitment to understanding the dynamics of each business and each vertical category. From the technical or scientific nuances of products or services to the competitive scene to projections of the future state, both parties need to focus clearly on drivers, blockers, and KPIs.
Political Savvy. Every organization has its politics. Knowing the players, the parameters and how the game is played is paramount to staying connected and staying relevant over time. In some instances, the jockeying for power eclipses the substance of the business. At any given moment, leadership could be in-flux or a particular faction could be ascendant. Having strong ties to all parties and steering clear of petty jealousies and arguments positions a partner organization for longevity.
Empathy. Stuff happens. Being able to see, feel and grasp the experience of others is a fundamental relationship building block. Clients are under enormous pressure to improve productivity and profits. Businesses and industries are being disrupted at a rapid pace. Competition is at a fever pitch and clients are reeling under an endless series of reorganizations, budget cuts, and unanticipated strategy shifts. Being empathetic and being present to process events and point the way forward as advisors and friends cements business relationships.
Proactivity. Marketers and consultants have an affirmative obligation to be pathfinders and scouts for their clients. Thinking several steps ahead, anticipating scenarios and handicapping evolving technology are critical parts of the assignment. Clients are generally heads down meeting today’s goals. Partners need to be present in the moment but thinking and acting with a future-forward mindset. Anticipating the next logical move and bringing forward the next unexpected or even crazy idea contributes to a deeper relationship bond.
Driving long term relationships with clients isn’t too different from driving deep personal relationships. You must show up regularly ready to dive in, pay close attention, listen, react, be empathetic, commit yourself to common goals and think ahead. It’s much easier said than done but it’s a goal we all aspire to.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.