How to build thriving client-agency relationships

“Madison Avenue has to reinvent itself,” says Agency Mania author Bruno Gralpois. There are numerous factors working against any agency looking to rest on its laurels: a shift toward project-based relationships, programmatic buying, clients who want a larger agency roster, clients who savvier than their predecessors about spending money effectively.

For brands, it’s no less daunting. Marketers are pushed in an ever-greater number of directions, it’s near-impossible to keep up with the explosion of marketing technology companies and products, and there is a significant talent gap in areas like data mining and customer engagement.

How do you find the right agency partner in such a crowded space? It’s tricky, especially when so-called specialty agencies are trying to be all things to all clients. Creative agencies do media work, digital agencies do TV, digital firms branch into PR. Everyone is always changing lanes, trying to get more pieces of the action. Client-agency relationships sometimes suffer as a result.

Gralpois is an expert at helping brands and agencies build stronger relationships; he spent many years working at the frontline of this struggle for powerhouse brands like Visa and Microsoft.

At Collabosphere, he outlined several ways to strengthen agency-brand relationships.



“Clients don’t feel they’re getting the level of innovation they need from their agency ecosystem,” Gralpois said. “Innovation should be in everything we do.”

Combine technology and creativity. Look for opportunities to make an impact outside of traditional advertising. Consider R/GA; as AdAge reported: “The R/GA Accelerator houses the startups for three months, offering mentorship, creative services and networking opportunities, along with $120,000 in investment in exchange for a 5% equity stake. The program is open to businesses that are exploring connected devices and Internet of Things.”

Make sure innovation is included in your quarterly business reviews.



When Lyft looked for a new agency of record, they sent out a tweet soliciting entries… within a six-day span. This, as Gralpois noted, breaks all of the “rules” about finding agency partners. But companies are moving quickly, so agencies have to be ready to respond quickly, and be ready to sacrifice the old agency of record model.

For brands? “You have to educate your organization on the cost of transitioning and onboarding new vendors and new agencies,” he said. “Most clients don’t always do that. You have to set a review schedule… You want to use performance data to make informed decisions.”

And if you’re pushing agencies into project-based relationships, guess what? You’re not always going to get their Don Draper on every project.


Friction-free collaboration

“We are, for whatever reason, and it’s very instinctive, we’re naturally attracted to those that are very different from who we are,” Gralpois said. You don’t need an agency that’s your mirror image, but you want an agency that’s compatible. Compatibility means open lines of communication and a established collaborative process. Protecting the feedback loop is absolutely critical, but you also want to protect the relationship from feedback fatigue.

“Focus on what really matters. Motivate without the checkbook. Identify joint learning programs where the clients can bring their agency partners into training programs, and vice versa,” Gralpois advised. As a client, make sure your expectations are clearly outlined.

“Not having the right scope or the right brief in place becomes an ongoing issue for most clients in these relationships,” he said. “They don’t scope the work very well and they don’t brief their agency partners very well, and that gets in the way of great work very consistently.”


Watch Bruno’s full talk below!

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.