This is the second interview in a series about agency/client relationships. If you know someone who should be
interviewed, please have them drop me a note at
Adam Kleinberg is CEO of Traction, recently named the #1 interactive agency in the U.S. by BtoB Magazine. He has been a pioneer in social media and creating rich digital experiences since he started his first blog in 1997. Since co-founding Traction in 2001, he has built a 30-person agency that has serviced great brands including Adobe, Virgin Mobile, CamelBak, Clos du Bois, Sun Microsystems and Alibaba.com.
Q5 Do you work on the agency side or client side?
Q6 What makes a good agency/client relationship?
Two things. Trust and communication. Trust is essential because clients come to agencies for leadership in their area of expertise. Without trust in their agency being able to deliver, the relationship is doomed. Communication is critical as well because unless expectations are consistently set and everyone is on the same page from the start, trust will soon erode and fingers will start to point.
Q7 What's your best tip for building a good agency/client relationship?
I'd say there's three main things you can do to maintain excellent client service levels in an ad agency.
The first is having processes in place that ensure communication between the client and agency are crystal clear (and that both the account team and client understand those processes). At the root of nearly every client relationship that I've ever seen go bad is poor communication. Conference reports aren't a waste of time. They avoid miscommunication. Creative briefs should be rigorously crafted and should leave no room for misinterpretation.
The second may sound obvious, but it's hiring good people. We always have a handful of account people in mind that we may want to bring on months before we need them. That way, you never have to settle when a new account comes in and we need to hire someone fast.
The third: be willing to walk away. I mentioned above that the #1 reason agencies and clients break up is miscommunication. The #2 reason is that there's just not a right fit. When my agency was 4 people and worked out of the spare bedroom of my apartment (7 years ago) we had a different cost structure than we do today at 30 employees. If you want to be great, you have to add process as you grow in order to maintain the quality of work. It's important to honestly ask "are we a good fit?" and if not, to just walk away. Otherwise, you're putting your client service people in the position of having to justify your agency cost structure again and again. And that's almost guaranteed to lead to a bad relationship.
Q8 Have you ever been in a difficult agency/client relationship? If so, were you able to improve the situation? How?
Anyone who tells you they've never been in a difficult agency/client relationship is a liar. Like any relationship, you are bound to hit your rough patches along the way. The solution is to embrace candor and address.
Q9 What do you wish clients understood about agencies?
We can't be an effective partner unless we're reasonably staffed. And there is a cost associated with that. However, with that cost there is value you will achieve and have a right to demand.
Q10 How can agencies add value for clients?
Being proactive about educating clients. Providing opinions and strategic insights.
Q11 Have you noticed any recent trends in agency/client relationships?
Clients need us to do more with less. That's ok. We just need to be candid about setting expectations and not grab at dollars just to flow money through the agency. Agencies must act like true agents and guide their clients to the best investment decisions of their marketing dollars.
Q12 Which past agency or client was the best to work with? (Past relationships only, please.)
We loved working with Bonny Doon Vineyards. There was a shared creative vision that we wanted to inspire and delight their hard-core fan base of customers—and be smart about their business at the same time. It was a formula for very successful, award-winning work that we had loads of fun producing.
Adversarial Agency/Client Relationships
Partnership Agency/Client Relationships
Confused Agency/Client Relationships
Integrated Agency/Client Relationships
Imbalanced Agency/Client Relationships