How to: Create A Winning Client/Agency Relationship

You’ve made the decision to engage a new agency. You’re not P&G, Unilever, J&J or any other client that undertakes a lengthy procurement process. You might be an emerging or middle-market wellness-focused CPG client, a beauty or medical device client or possibly a hospital or health system. How to get off on the right foot and cultivate a relationship that creates a trifecta win for your brand, business and agency?

7 Characteristics of High-Performing Client/Agency Relationships

1. Category Expertise. We believe that creativity is fueled by knowledge, not stifled by it. There’s no replacement for having a deep understanding of a client’s business environment, business model and audiences. Armed with this knowledge, this gives an agency the ability to develop powerful insights. And great work usually has a smart insight at its core. Insight also inspires new and fresh ways of thinking about the business, new product and service concepts and new angles to address problems. Lastly, category expertise also allows for serious business conversations with client senior leadership beyond the selling of products and services.

2. Shared Overarching Brand View & Stewardship. It behooves anyone in charge of a brand to choose a branding or marketing agency partner who shares their brand view. Do your partners subscribe to the idea of brands as an organizing principle for your organization? If not, then what navigation system do they suggest? Along these same lines, you might have multiple specialist agencies in your stable, e.g. digital, SEO, content marketing, etc. However, one agency needs to have a holistic brand understanding, to ensure message, tone of voice, design, communications and actions are coherent across the business in order to consistently build brand equity.

3. Matching of Profiles. Borrowing on the analogy of online dating services, it’s not likely that everyone you meet is going to be compatible with you. So think about the dimensions most important to you in a marketing agency. In the case of Trajectory, we align best with smaller marketing departments who require strong business partners. We’re a smaller agency, which means our leadership is actively working on client business, we understand the bigger picture and have the experience to think ahead to what challenges or opportunities might lie ahead. We pride ourselves on working with our clients so closely that it feels like a seamless extension of our client’s marketing department.

4. Similar Definition of Excellent Work. Obviously it’s work that makes a client happy, makes them look good and drives business success. But these are really broad benchmarks. So client and marketing agency should align on the specific dimensions of excellent work, and of creativity, to manage each other’s expectations. This common ground definition should also be formalized and committed to paper.

5. Client Involvement In The Process. Do you want to be involved earlier in the creative process as part of your agency team? Creating exceptional client/agency relationships is critical to delivering great work. Collaboration builds a deeper level of trust which allows the agency to have more meaningful and open conversations about your business challenges. And yet, the rub of so many agency‐client relationship issues is this notion of the agency not adding value, not providing thought leadership or business building ideas to their clients.

6. Communication. As with any strong partnership, there is a give and take required from both sides to ensure success. But what can the agency do to uphold their end of the bargain? Characteristics like reliability, trustworthiness and communication are key. Establishing a cadence of engagement and active communication that goes beyond excellent customer service. Clients want to feel that they are being listened to throughout the partnership. And, being a “team,” agencies need to uphold the “we’re here for you” promise. For this to happen, agencies need transparency into the clients’ true pain points and objectives.

7. Results. Given the ever-changing shift in marketing budgets and the availability of analytics, integrated strategy and award-winning campaigns are no longer enough for brands to justify agency partnership to their stakeholders. Because when it comes down to it, what is a “partner” or a “strategy” without results? Today, data-proven results is the #1 “gotta-have-it” indicator of success. Which means results that impact the bottom line and the growth of the business.

In Summary

Agency: Focus on the creative product, build a culture that fosters the process and look after your people.
Client: Invest in your agency relationships from the top, let the agency under the tent and liberate them to be creative in thinking and output.
Both: Be courageous (based on a mutually agreed definition).


Founded in 1999, Trajectory is the specialist branding and marketing agency partnering with clients across the health + wellness continuum to grow better business. Reach out here.