Transparency is more than just dollar signs

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Here's how to build true partnerships with clients, says PMG's founder.

There’s plenty of industry buzz today about the need for transparency within media buying, and as of late, within the production process, given the recent ANA report. What all business leaders—at media agencies, creative agencies, production companies and otherwise—need to understand is that transparency should be your overarching business philosophy at the core of everything you do. Transparency is the key to success in client service businesses, because at the foundation of every great client relationship is trust. 

Burger King Global CMO Axel Schwan said it best at Cannes Lions this year. "Agencies are not vending machines," he said. "You cannot throw in a few dollars and expect good creative to come out." Close and trustful client-agency partnerships are critical to creating impactful work that drives sales and increases brand value.

Here are three guiding principles to building the kind of trust that creates true, lasting client partnerships.

Responsibility
An agency’s responsibility is to successfully guide its clients through their media and marketing decisions. As leader at your agency, you must determine how your agency will lead your clients’ "improvement" efforts and communicate exactly how you plan to help them reach their goals. Eventually, you’ll establish formal policies that show your agency is proactively taking steps to reach these goals. 

It’s also important to assume your clients’ challenges as your own. Show them that that you’re as invested as they are in the success of their business. Embrace closer working relationships with your clients in an effort to align overarching business goals and strive to work together as one entity. 

Clients have high expectations of their agencies to deliver brand and business results through their work. That’s a given. Yet, there should always be a partnership mindset—one team.

Accountability
Hold yourself accountable for the promises you make to your clients (and their consumers) and the mistakes you make along the way. Trust can’t be bought, it must be earned, so be honest and transparent in the work you produce. This stands true for relationships, too—if something isn’t working for you or for the client (whether it’s a business strategy or chemistry between teams) address it head on and proactively.

Measurement is the only way to know if your agency is doing the right work to move the needle. It’s imperative to clearly benchmark your success against the goals set forth. Accountability is an area where most partnerships fall down, so be sure to leave a paper trail of your work and achievements, so there’s no confusion on either side about what you’re working toward. When agencies fail to do this, brands often put their business up for review. According to the World Federation of Advertisers, as much as $2.9 billion worth of ad spend is under review as of January 2017.

But it’s also important to establish a balance between holding your agency accountable for successes (and failures) and helping your clients understand that achieving goals will take time. It also requires a long-term commitment and consistent oversight. Both sides must work together and keep each other honest to avoid big blunders. If Pepsi or Dove had done this more effectively, both companies could have avoided public embarrassment.

Democratization of Data
In an effort to promote transparency and trust, adopt a collaborative and holistic approach for effective decision making. Big data initiatives must reach across an organization and beyond to touch employees at all levels of the enterprise, as well as business partners—including partners’ partners—and contractors. In the long run, agencies that willingly share data, insights and methods within the partnership ecosystem will ultimately generate more value for a client’s business.

Data is absolutely critical to knowing about your brand’s target group. For us, we find the relevant insights and stories in the data to develop outstanding campaign work.

True transparency equals true partnerships. Leverage the data economy to promote transparency among clients and all their partners, and even employees. Without this equation, the ability to test, learn, fail and grow would not be possible. Successful agencies need to adopt this culture in their workplaces, and it must come from the top. Agency leaders need to lead by example.

George Popstefanov is founder and CEO at PMG.