Complacency kills: Why familiarity is the enemy of the client-agency relationship

“Nice idea, but they won’t buy that…” sound familiar?

A close working relationship benefits both agency and client, but there can come a time when it starts to work against you. Agencies only put forward safe ideas and clients feel that the creative edge has gone. Before you know it, you are just implementing guidelines and are a yes man or woman. Worst of all, you become self-censoring, turning down ideas before you even present them. You are your worse enemy and what you think is good for the relationship, might be shortening it.

So why does this happen?

Part of a good working relationship is about getting to know clients better and getting to grips with their brand guidelines. Realising what will work and what will not. It becomes quicker to respond and you know what will work. But this can be the start of the end if it results in ideas becoming stilted and a standard vanilla for everything. When things are too comfy, it is easy to get on with more of the same, especially if you have worked out that it is going to please the client and you will continue to get work.

It happens because it is a line of least resistance. You get a yes every time and don’t have to do endless amends, surely that is a good thing? It might be good for now, but not for the long term.

What can you do about it?

When you start, there is a certain naivety, a blurring of the lines and a desire to create great work and take risks. You tend to ask if we can get away with something, can the guidelines be stretched and to put forward riskier ideas that can be shot down.

You need to keep an element of that naivety, to challenge conventional thinking and to push ideas to the edges. This is not necessarily a natural thing, so you need to plan it in.

Take time to look at other things you can do. Commit to present an idea that will stretch the boundaries with other more conventional ones.

Ask yourself some serious questions:

  • What would we do if we did not know about any of the restrictions or personalities involved?
  • How would we treat this as a stand-alone piece of work?
  • Would we react to the brief differently if this was a pitch?

This should be a two-way street, feedback is essential, otherwise you are operating in the dark. See if you can get your client to review what you are doing and what they are happy with and what they would like done differently. It is not easy to get straight answers face to face, so use an anonymous survey to get the information back.

Look at changing location.  A new neutral location can take you and the client out of the normal space and give you both a chance to think about things differently. Come up with some new and exciting ideas. Embrace the crazy ideas, then look at how you can make them relevant and useable, rather than just automatically squashing them.

How should you view relationships?

A key to stopping complacency is to look at how you view client relationships. It is much cheaper to retain business than to win it, so what are you doing to retain and refresh the relationship?

When did you last bring some exciting new ideas to the client? When did you entertain them? When did you challenge and push back on something?

A good relationship is an honest two way one, yes you need to know each other, but you also need to challenge each other. Business relationships, like personal ones can go stale. Getting to the seven year itch is less likely in a business setting, as it tends to cut in a lot faster. Clients move, purchasing gets involved and there are always a barrage of companies who want to take your place. So don’t take your relationship for granted, nurture and refresh it and like the best relationships, it will go on and on.

Top 5 tips

  1. Stop self-censoring, if it is good, show the client
  2. Forget your preconceptions for a day and go back to basics
  3. Wild ideas can be tempered, boring ones are hard to improve
  4. Brands will always flex guidelines for brilliant ideas
  5. Don’t take your business relationship for granted.