Communication: The not-so-secret sauce


Communication is the secret sauce to every successful relationship; be it personal or business related. Come to think of it, it isn’t such a secret. It's more like table stakes for a successful partnership, but one would think it is the best kept secret, considering few client/agency partnerships would rate their communication as ‘excellent.’

For such a simple concept, why is it so difficult to practice? The breakdown of so many brand/agency partnerships often boils down to poor communication. A few examples of this include:

- An agency is surprised that the client hasn’t been satisfied with the output and are putting the business up for review.

- A client is surprised that they haven’t been effective at communicating business problems and receive a very poor 360 review.

- The briefing process is broken because an agency is treated as a supplier rather then a partner, and therefore the output suffers.

- Misunderstanding brews throughout an RFP process because the client does not allow interaction with key marketing personnel throughout the search.

- Brands and agencies have lost their connection outside of the brief-present-execute-repeat hamster wheel. Remember the days when brands and agencies spent time truly getting to know each other? Times when they got together outside of the boardroom?

It is possible to mend a relationship with improved communication. When the importance of good communication is recognized and actions from all sides support this, it sets the parties up for a much improved brand/agency partnership. I'd be remiss not to mention my belief that we can salvage much of the bad reputation RFPs have gotten if we simply commit to better communication.

Some tips for both brands and agencies looking to gain that ‘excellent’ rating include:

1. Speak to your agency like a partner rather then a supplier.

2. Be open with your client when a briefing process isn’t working, or you’re feeling ‘left out’ of key strategic conversations. The more you know about a business and the more involved you are, the better you can be at delivering innovative solutions that make a difference.

3. Keep the lines of communication open during an RFP. Allow some form of contact with the marketing team beyond presentations (i.e. a Q&A session). If major milestones are changing, inform all participating agencies with an explanation. Be transparent. Commit to a follow up meeting or call with agencies who did not progress through the process to give them an opportunity to really learn from the experience and what they could have done differently.

4. Implement 360 reviews for clients AND agency partners bi-annually.

5. Get out together and be social!

6. Treat senior level status meetings as non-negotiable. Let’s face it, status meetings to simply ‘check in’ on how things are going are the easiest meetings to push off when schedules are over booked. However, these meetings can be the most productive to uncover new opportunities, discuss what is/isn’t working, and perhaps get after #5 – being social! These don’t have to occur weekly. Try committing to once a month in an environment more personal than a phone call; lunch, coffee, an after work meet up, etc.

If a relationship can be salvaged with improved communication, isn’t it worth the commitment? If you can attract and maintain strong agency partners or hold onto your client’s business simply by committing to be a more inclusive and open communicator, isn’t it worth it? Let me answer for you … YES!

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