So when you’re sure you have the right agency on board, how should you manage your relationship? Adrian Wheeler, chief executive of GCI London, says: “Clients always get the agency service that they deserve. If you make yourself available, if you give clear instructions, if you pay compliments when someone on the team has worked specially hard, your agency will go the extra mile for you. If you treat them like suppliers, they will eventually lose heart and treat you like a customer.”
It is crucial that clients treat their agency team as an extension of the workforce, PR companies believe. Some even advocate hot-desking, making sure that an agency person goes into the client office once a month to work for the day, and vice versa. It means you can start to understand who does what, and the internal politics.
Trust is also important on both sides of the relationship. You have to be able to trust your agency not only to get on with the work, but to trust their judgement and listen to them. Open and honest communication both ways is crucial. Don’t hold things back that an agency needs to know, and do expect them to keep in constant communication with you as well as with more formal monthly or quarterly progress reports.
Assuming things are going well, you’re getting results and the relationship and ideas are still fresh, there is no need to change agencies, although a competitive re-pitch every two or three years can keep complacency at bay.
There is no standard contract term. A retainer contract might be anything from six months to three years, although many clients who do not need ongoing activity will hire the same agency for project after project, each with its own budget.
The most common reason for a change of agency is a change of senior management at a client company – a new broom who wants to make their mark, or who may want to bring agencies with them from their previous company. This may be a fact of life but also “trashes years of accumulated knowledge on the part of the incumbent agency and wastes untold amounts of the clients money,” says Wheeler.
However, from time to time things do go wrong within a relationship. The first thing to do if things seem to be turning sour is to talk to your agency. Give your agency a chance – it may not all be their fault. Sometimes it takes a frank discussion to establish what is wrong. A good agency will phone you to say things are not going well before you call them.
The problem may be more easily resolved than you think. If after all options have been explored you both admit failure, then start a new pitching process and give them notice or the option of resigning the work. It’s only polite to invite the incumbent to pitch again.