Re-Culturing the Agency-Client Relationship

Ask almost anyone across the world, and they will tell you how agency culture is toxic. More specifically, how the dynamic between client and agency is mostly unhealthy.

Yet the relationship between clients and agencies is a crucial aspect of the marketing, public relations and advertising landscape, influencing not only the success of individual campaigns but for growing the general communications landscape and raising industry standards.

In this article, we delve into some of the causes of fraction in the relationship and explore strategies to foster a more positive and productive client-agency dynamic.


Understanding the Ailment

The general bad toxicity within a client-agency dynamic often stems from a few key factors:

  • Misalignment of expectations
  • Unclear communication or briefs
  • A general lack of mutual respect.

Clients may feel that agencies don’t fully grasp their brand vision, while agencies might sense that clients are overly demanding or fail to appreciate the intricacies of the creative process. This miscommunication can breed frustration, resentment, and an overall toxic atmosphere.

Additionally, the ever-increasing pressure to deliver outstanding results, pitches, plans and strategies, within tight deadlines can contribute to a high-stress environment.

Agencies may feel compelled to prioritize quantity over quality, leading to burnout among their teams. This pressure negatively impacts the quality of work produced and strains the client-agency relationship further.


Building a Foundation of Trust

To address the health of a client-agency dynamic, both parties must actively work towards building and maintaining a foundation of trust. Open and transparent communication is key. Establishing clear communication channels, setting expectations from the outset, and fostering an environment where feedback is encouraged can go a long way.

Moreover, trust is built on a foundation of mutual respect. Clients should respect the expertise and creative process of their agency partners, recognizing the value they bring to the table. The attitude: “we are paying you so do what we say, when we say” has to change. Not only is it terribly unwoke but it is also completely counterproductive.  

In turn, agencies must demonstrate a commitment to understanding and fulfilling the client’s business objectives. To immersing themselves in the client’s ecosystem.

This reciprocal respect forms the basis for a healthier, more collaborative working relationship. 


Better planning

A significant source of tension in the client-agency relationship is often the dreaded last minute deadlines. Both long term clients and potential ones, may have unrealistic expectations about the speed of results or the scope of work, while agencies might struggle to convey the time and effort required for creative excellence. So many times, agencies, particularly of a small to medium nature, find themselves in situations where a failure to turn around a large project instantly, owing to a creative process or reliance on, for instance, third party partners, has led clients to accuse them of a lack of interest, of being too busy with other clients or simply not having the right team. This leads to resentment, frustration and needless to say, inter personal/professional relationship angst.

There needs to be better planning all around. More time spent on strategy, on building and then enough time for execution that is as impactful as it is sustainable and healthy for all those working on it.


Investing in Education

Clients can benefit from gaining insights into the creative process, market trends, and the challenges faced by agencies. Similarly, agencies should continuously update their knowledge about their clients’ industries, business models, and strategic objectives.

Workshops, training sessions, and collaborative initiatives can facilitate this mutual education process. As clients and agencies become more informed about each other’s perspectives and challenges, the foundation for a positive and collaborative relationship strengthens.