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CARMA is an acronym I created within my consulting business, and there is purpose behind it being a new way to spell what we traditionally know as Karma.

Kar-ma: what goes around comes around, following as effect from cause.

CARMA: Client Agency Relationship Management

Over my career I have been responsible for the hiring and management of dozens of agencies and communication partners, and witnessed first hand how these relationships can so easily erode over time if not nurtured on a regular basis (and I don’t mean being wined and dined at expensive restaurants).

Think about your day to day personal relationships. One would never extend a last-minute party invite to a friend they genuinely cared about. We would not expect our marriage or relationships to last in the absence of mutual respect. Yet time and time again I hear marketing organizations feel they aren’t getting what they pay for out of their agencies. In parallel, agencies often feel nickeled and dimed for their most precious resource (time) and have felt frustrated by the promise of being a strategic partner, but end up feeling more like a rushed tactics delivery team.

CARMA seems like such a simple principle, so why is it rarely given the attention needed to produce fulfilling, mutually beneficial relationships? All too often, it is because the relationship itself is taken for granted. Said agency won the business. Said client wrote an excellent brief. Both regularly check the boxes by sitting on weekly status calls and inviting each other to launches and holiday parties, so they’re working hard at the relationship, aren’t they?

The answer is … not really. True client agency relationship management goes deeper then that. It is having continual open dialogue about business complexities and challenges outside of briefs. It is having transparent conversations about the talent pool (on both teams) to ensure the compatibility and ‘fit’ that started the relationship in the first place still holds true.

My advice is to manage agency partners with respect. Some examples include;

- inclusion in the strategic process

- partners rather than executors

- realistic timelines

- competitive compensation

For agencies, manage your clients with similar respect such as;

- timely delivery

- high caliber team

- responsiveness

- same strategic muscle that won you the business

Be honest with each other about how processes and operations are or are not working. Don’t wait for a contract end date to decide the relationship needs therapy. Good CARMA will bring good business KARMA, for both sides.


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