Are Your Clients Ready to Work?

Partnerships Can -- and Should -- Be as Fun as a Three-Legged Race

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Peter Madden
Peter Madden
Remember doing the three-legged race as a kid? You and a friend (albeit a more athletically-inclined one, in my situation) would tie your ankles together and attempt to cross the finish line first. I forget the prize in those rare instances when my team won -- maybe it was a Fresca.

Sticking with that scenario, what if at the starting line, instead of tying your ankles together, your pal looked at you and asked you to carry him the whole way?

What the F(resca)?

Ultimately, agency work thrives or withers as a result of the work ethic and spirit of collaboration that must be a part of a working relationship. You're tied together, my friends, and though there are times when you better be doing the carrying, for the most part, it takes two to make a thing go right. OK, now stop dancing.

This reality became especially real recently when members of our public relations division spent most of their time simply trying to nail an elusive client down for simple feedback, information relevant to a pitch or God forbid -- availability to be interviewed by a national source. When she wasn't available, they were left dealing with the clients' staffer that had a Marketing 101 mentality, with an extra-spicy attitude to boot. You can imagine how well that went.

Unprofessional. Not our bag. Good night and good luck.

Clients are spending good money in a tight economy, but that doesn't mean they can sit back and enjoy the ride. If anything, they must roll their sleeves up with us. That's why expectations are so crucial. That's why forever more, one of my earlier questions when vetting prospects will simply be "Are you ready to work? Those who get it will respond enthusiastically and those who don't will look at me quizzically. In those cases, "Next" will be the one-word mantra.

Let me be clear: We, the agency owners, researchers, account managers, designers, etc. are the experts and we must lead with great ideas, transparent processes and results. This isn't about sitting back and waiting for a client to offer a strategy, concept or story angle -- it's about working together and doing the work to get the best out of the client. The agency, of course, exists to draw this field expertise out of the client, create the big idea, then re-position and launch what is appropriate dictated by the discovered brand knowledge.

When you're talking about the life of the company, you would hope that the client would be as equally engaged in this race. Its reputation, dollars and more are on the line.

It comes down to partner vs. vendor. A partnership between agency and client is comprised of authenticity, candor, trust and respect. A vendor-ship between agency and client to me is transactional and filled with mistrust, fear, insecurity and will never lead to the best work and results for the collective.

On a relevant topic, my little partner (future AgileCat intern) Gavin goes to a daycare where every day he's sent home with a one-page report on what he did during the day. It's a real treat to read and what I loved seeing just the other day in the report was that "Gavin loved racing with his friends."

When I write of working together and partnerships, I'm talking more about racing together to the finish line and, God forbid, having fun doing it. Running like hell, especially when you're tied to each other, is work, but it can be a tremendous amount of fun, too, when you're both really in it to win it.

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