When you get the long awaited phone call – after a long drawn out pitch involving multiple departments within a potential client – telling you the fantastic news that your team is on board, you could be forgiven for thinking that the hard work has been done.
Unfortunately, you couldn’t be further from the truth as the next few months are crucial to getting under the skin of your clients. Engaging the key stakeholders and their customer base in order to truly understand the business dynamic and culture; how they think and act; what their short-, medium- and long-term goals are; and the day-to-day pressures of their business – essentially, what makes them tick both professionally and personally.
So with your ultimate goal to become an extension of your client’s marketing team and the dream to have a client-agency relationship as long standing as JWT and Unilever (dating from 1902 to present day) how do you start off on the right path?
Delivering aligned strategic thinking
It will not be surprising to know that there is no right answer and there are certainly no short cuts. The first few months are critical as you need to meet with all direct and indirect clients plus all key stakeholders and decision makers.
Approaching these conversations with continual ‘whys?’ like an over inquisitive toddler will enable you to gain a deep understanding of each personality and how they like to operate.
Having an entrepreneurial view is essential as this allows an agency to understand how and where it can add value to deliver against its clients’ objectives.
As you speak to different business units, you must approach these with an open mind, as quite often at first glance their objectives may not seem to be fully aligned. This is the first opportunity. Take a consultative approach to present joined up solutions back to the wider business in order to increase performance and, ultimately, deliver cost efficiencies. A win/win for all involved and delivering through the correct approach will ensure a client feels comfortable and proud of the process.
The agency-client relationship evolution
It is obvious that long-term agency-client relationships continue to increase performance through excellent and progressive creativity; relevant innovation; consistency in delivery; and, of course, those ever important economies of scale.
Often the initial pitch is focused on a single skill set of an agency and as trust is built through the execution of campaigns and over time, this becomes an excellent opportunity to extend the conversation further and continue to increase the overall performance of a client.
So often it is the everyday relationships that allow an agency to diversify and adapt its skill set, but only if it is open to these opportunities. It is essential to have a focus on client servicing at all times to ensure these opportunities are not missed, but the approach must be at the core of the whole agency team and not just the head of client services.
Aligning multiple stakeholders within the experiential sector
Within the experiential industry there are often a few more challenges along the way as key stakeholders often span across multiple departments and the agency skill set is attempting to deliver against a multitude of key performance indicators (KPIs).
In order to facilitate this through multiple stakeholder management, we at Undercurrent have developed our own intellectual property (IP) through a bespoke digital solution which is now integral to our business as an end-to-end campaign management tool.
Our proprietary digital hub delivers campaign and inventory management; transparent finance and budgeting; and full reporting in real time. This has enabled us over the past few years to demonstrate huge value, not only through campaign results but also efficiencies through time, production, sourcing and execution. It provides a full audit system for both marketing and procurement departments alike.
As an agency that specialises in the retail and technology retail sectors, we understand the speed that businesses are required to move on a daily basis (for the uninitiated it is frighteningly fast). If you are to excel in these environments, the agency processes need to embrace this speed and ensure you are one step ahead of the ever changing landscape.
At Undercurrent, our digital portal is designed to do just this and the real-time reporting is essential for understanding how our campaigns are performing on a daily basis. All campaign KPIs must be agreed in advance and although this can be a timely process, it is essential to ensure each department receives their specific results. By capturing all campaign data into one place we can analyse the data in real time and drill down into the details to understand performance by day, week, month, quarter, region, sales, conversion, net promoter score, and even cross reference against historical campaigns to show result progression month-on-month and year-on-year.
We invest just as much time in the ongoing management of live campaigns as we do in the planning, creative and production phases, which often is an afterthought when the campaign is out of the door.
You get out what you put in
Like any relationship, ongoing investment of time, energy and the continual presentation of effective business solutions is required. You must deliver the everyday essentials of strategy, creativity and faultless execution as this builds trust and, in turn, allows the delivery of services to broaden. This deepening of the agency-client relationship enables diversification in agency services driving excellent client efficiencies from both a budgetary and consistency point of view.
Never underestimate the speed in which a client’s business evolves as it is the agency’s responsibility to anticipate this and always remain one step ahead. Over time, a client’s business adapts to many external and internal factors: economic changes; new product developments; customer demand; changes in strategic direction; and changes in senior leadership team to name a few, and the role as an agency partner becomes ever more important.
In our experience, the key to developing long-standing client relationships is to adopt an entrepreneurial approach to client servicing and, perhaps most importantly, to own and develop your agency IP. It is imperative this IP innovation aligns with your client’s business needs and is not rigidly set against your own agency objectives.