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ID CommsJan 25, 20222 min read

What Makes a Winning Client/Agency Relationship?

The best results come from the best relationships. So what makes a winning client/agency relationship?

We’re privileged to see some of the world’s best clients and most brilliant agencies. We know that when they work together to their potential these relationships can be hugely powerful at delivering business results. When they don’t, the results can be, at best, mediocre.

What determines the difference is the relationship between the two sides. Often this relationship can involve just a few people but the success or failure of their connection has impacts that can ripple out much more widely.

The signs that relationships are not all they should be are three-fold:

First, the power imbalance: When one side seems to be dictating the direction and decisions then it’s not a strategic relationship. When the agency side is too submissive, they can appear to simply turn up and take instructions but sometimes, particularly when there’s a long-running relationship, the agency can become dominant too.

Second, a lack of clarity: If there’s a lack of clarity about what success looks like and no agreed objectives then friction is likely to arise. Often this means there’s been a failure to define a clear scope of work and have an agreed sense of what success looks like.

Third, festering disagreement. If there’s no regular formal or informal way to make changes for the better or address issues, then the relationship will sour. This needs to be more than just an annual review and include informal channels as well as big sit-down sessions where you discuss operational priorities.

For more on agency relationships, check out Best Practice in Media Agency Management Guidelines created by ISBA and ID Comms.

Behaviour matters as a client and the key one is being willing to do the boring but essential stuff. That means having a clear scope of work, an up-to-date contract, fair remuneration, giving clear instructions and quality briefing.

If you’ve done those then you won’t be the advertiser who complains that their agency never gives them new ideas but hasn’t included that on the scope of work. If it matters to you, you need to tell your agency.

Getting this right requires the brand to take the lead. They need to be respectful, invest time on briefing, embrace great ideas and creativity and champion the agency internally.

Signs that this is happening are easy to spot. They involve both parties being very open and sharing what they think personal and professional success looks like. An agency that knows whether its client wants to win awards or move to the next level, for example, is better placed to create the work that’s desired.


Getting relationship management right helps advertisers become a priority client. Most agencies could probably write a list of their best clients from top to bottom and it won’t be in spend order.

Those closer to the top will get more attention, access to more innovation and better talent. Understanding this requires a certain humility and a willingness to ask: “what can we do better?”