Clients that make small agencies great

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BART CLEVELAND: I’ve read that the average client relationship is now around two years. On the other end of that scale is the client that sticks with an agency through thick and thin sometimes for decades. I know of many small agencies that have clients that have been with them for their entire history. We have one. Over the years we have become a part of that client without losing our own identity. We anticipate there needs with accuracy because we’re aware of so much about their business. As a trusted ally they share with us much more than their marketing needs. This gives us a deeper understanding allowing us to help them in invaluable ways. This is a client who doesn’t view us as a vendor.

A long-term relationship like this offers an agency stability through the rocky. When my agency was searching for a new creative director (me), several of our clients put as much of their advertising needs on hold as they could to lighten the agency’s load. They helped a valued partner through a difficult time. It impressed me so much it contributed to my decision to join the agency. Clients such as these should be cherished for they are rare.

I have a friend who runs a small agency outside the US. A couple of years ago a long-term client wanted to freshen their work. They felt the agency had become too familiar to break the tradition in their previous work. But rather than do an agency review the client allowed the agency to bring in some temporary fresh blood to do the new campaign. The experiment was a success in two ways: The new work broke down the barriers that familiarity breeds. It helped the agency and the client see things from a fresh perspective. The new work included some thinking, so radical, it made the client realize they weren’t ready to take the step they thought they were. They moved forward, but at a slower pace they could accommodate. If that client had fired that agency to get fresh thinking they would have came to the same conclusion but lost a tremendously valuable asset. Their agency had helped them become quite successful over the years. This happens more often than not.

How does the long-term relationship happen? Obviously there is a chemistry match between the client and the agency. A trust is established and maintained. Goals are met and many times exceeded. There is an unusual nature to these relationships in that these things are maintained year after year. Like a successful marriage it lasts because you don’t take your partner for granted. You work at making things better, improving yourself and bringing out the best in your partner. You also realize that partners change and so you must adapt. You must grow with them. Look at Weiden’s relationship with Nike. It is amazing and yet obvious why that relationship has remained for so long. Weiden was equal to the task of achieving greatness with Nike. I’m sure there are many interesting stories about a long-term relationship with a client. If you have one, I hope you’ll share it.
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