The ingredients of a true partnership

Oystercatchers on the ingredients of a true partnership between agency and client

The need for effectiveness, efficiency and standout work means the path to success lies in true partnerships.

True partnerships are hard to find, Claire Beale writes.

I couldn’t agree more. Just like everyone else, I’m watching with bated breath as the Audi pitch unfolds.

The advertising landscape is an unforgiving jungle and, at Oystercatchers, we see extraordinary things going on: brands ending long-standing, seemingly successful agency relationships, budgets straining and a need for effectiveness and efficiency greater than ever. This, along with the relentless demand for standout work and the return of creativity to the heart of business, means that, more than ever before, the path to success must be true partnerships.

Here are insights I have observed from conversations with clients and agencies on what makes for a true partnership.

Be more than an agency

Clients are looking for more than just an agency. They want people who will get in the trenches with them. I recently overheard one marketer paraphrase Churchill: "I measure partners by how often they show up in bad weather."

Agencies need knowledge and passion for a brand and this takes time and investment. Nike describes Wieden & Kennedy as "almost as responsible as Nike for what Nike is today" – a true example of collaboration.

My advice to agencies: turn down pitches more often. Choose your battles. Pitch only for business you can win. Genuine passion is obvious and partnerships come from a passion to win from the start.

The right price may not be the lowest price

Clients: push for added value, not agency fee-slashing.

Agencies: push clients to explore performance-related payment. Skin in the game is a powerful partnership builder.

Respect the experts

Agencies: challenge from a business and creative perspective.

Clients: remember why you hired an agency in the first place.

Robert Townsend famously said: "Avis will never know as much about advertising as DDB and DDB will never know as much about the rent-a-car business as Avis."

Pitching is a last resort

At Oystercatchers, we estimate there are more than 100 agency/client relationships under scrutiny in any given year, equating to more than 600 weeks of pitching. Nine times out of 10, the agency alone is not the problem.

When clients credibly call a pitch, there should be concrete reasons and, importantly, changes they plan to make internally to build a new partnership.

If relationships are suffering, find a way of working that is agile and effective. Make time for face to face over phone or email. I recently came across an agency chief executive and brand chief marketing officer who had not met for six months. That partnership won’t last long.

Celebrate the successes, no matter how busy you are or how small they feel

True partnerships have one mutual goal, and clients and agencies need to celebrate together as one joined-up team. Relationships built on personal and professional chemistry flourish and thrive.

Ultimately, the key to success in powerful relationship lies in trust, the ability to challenge each other openly, and a passion and mutual respect for each other’s businesses. I genuinely believe this is possible if we are marching in the same direction with the same aim – to produce great work that’s effective in driving a business’ bottom line.

Rebecca Nunneley is client director at Oystercatchers

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