Making the client/agency marriage a bond that lasts

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Relationships take work. They require trust and mutual respect from each party. As marketers, we aspire to achieve meaningful, long-term relationships but often fall short for many reasons. First and foremost: Marketing can be a fickle occupation. The average tenure for a client/agency relationship is two years, and the average tenure for a CMO can be as little as 18 months. When I started at Air Products more than 15 years ago, our agency of record, Carton Donofrio Partners, had already been on board for five years. While an agency relationship of 20 years might shock some, it's not surprising for a business like Air Products, a 70-year-old company that has thrived because of its enduring relationships with customers and communities around the globe. For an agency to have a lasting impact, a long-term commitment needs to be established. Here are several keys to building a strong relationship:
  • View your agency as an extension of your team. Integrate and collaborate often. The agency/client relationship has to be a partnership of equals. Nothing valuable comes out of a hierarchical, unbalanced relationship.
  • Push each other to evolve and grow. Companies need agencies that challenge them to think differently, while agencies sometimes fall into the trap of providing what they think the client wants. By challenging each other, you'll grow and evolve together.
  • Understand there will be bumps in the road. Over the past two years many companies struggled with the costs associated with retaining agencies. We talked very openly with our agency about the downturn's impact on our business. They understood the new business realities and worked with us to find common ground that would see us through difficult times.
  • Keep an open mind. There's a misconception in the b-to-b sector that you need to work with agencies that are steeped in b-to-b marketing. I don't believe this to be true. Great communications are based on great ideas, regardless of business sector.
  • Work with agencies that play nicely with others. While Carton Donofrio has been our agency of record for two decades, we've worked with other agencies on a project basis. In addition, we also have a long-standing relationship with Ogilvy in the U.K. Carton Donofrio and Ogilvy have worked together on our behalf over the years, and we've all benefited from the expertise around the table.
  • Remember what attracted you to the agency in the first place. For us it was the breadth of the agency's offering—from strategy to execution—and that skill set still remains.
  • John Dodds is global brand and marketing communications director of Air Products, which provides gases, materials, equipment and services to industrial, energy, technology and healthcare markets worldwide. He can be reached at
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