Enduring client relationships in the AD game – Danni Dixon : MD of JHB #TBWA

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Businesses like to keep score. Profits and new business are under particular scrutiny. But another tally is just as important for those looking to succeed in the long term – the contracts and clients you retain. This rarely gets the same attention. Stability lacks the excitement of the chase and the elation of a big win. Enduring relationships are assumed to be boring. In fact, they’re anything but. Advertising agencies proclaim their client wins, but the secret source of pride (for successful agencies anyway) is their rate of long-term client retention.

Look at the track record of an agency like TBWA\ Hunt\ Lascaris Johannesburg. It’s obsessive about holding clients close. Standard Bank has been on board for 20 years; so has City Lodge. The relationship with Nampak goes back 15 years and Tiger Brands has been with the agency for 13.

Is this everlasting love?

That can’t be the full story, if US pop psychology is to be believed. One published psychologist insists love comes down to “micro moments” and can’t last forever. Another says true love, defined as eternal passion, is biologically impossible.Chemistry is important, but there must be something more.Common bonds are clearly crucial and in advertising the vital element has to be the work. Both the agency and the client team have to be absorbed in it and feel the excitement when great ideas are born; so excited the source of the inspiration doesn’t matter.

Which side of the desk the concept comes from is never as important as the moment of recognition when you know something great has just come to life. Rigid compartments collapse and suddenly the client drives the creative process while the idea becomes so vivid and impactful the agency team finds it has a role in product innovation. Even package design can be impacted by the big idea, and both parties have to be thrilled by the possibilities. It’s not something to be left to the technical people. The creatives have to be just as enthusiastic. These are the moments when planets align and a partnership is perfection. Measurement should not be off-putting when partners collaborate like this. It should be a turn-on.

Success is measurable and measures should be clear. When product promotion is abandoned because the client can’t keep up with demand that’s clear enough. Individual highs cement the relationship and bring you even closer. Over time, understanding of the client’s industry deepens. Ideas now have even greater chance of adding value because the marketplace is better appreciated. This creates opportunities to help clients build their businesses in new, unexpected ways. Entrepreneurial clients warm to new, creative ideas. Agency creatives warm to the idea of close involvement with a dynamic company.Common values underpin the output; values like respect for the contribution of every team member and honesty with one another.

Good clients know risk is involved when searching for great ideas. They have a pact with their agency partners to push together for great work. They are in it together, and have each other’s backs. That doesn’t mean clients aren’t tough. The client’s team is accountable for results and holds the agency accountable for work that must contribute to the achievement of objectives. Regular reviews assess the work against precise goals and benchmarks. Accountability leads to shared purpose and shared responsibility for getting things right. Over time, another responsibility takes shape … the responsibility for continued urgency and all-out commitment. In life and in business, it’s a mistake to take your partner for granted. Complacency must never set in.

Paranoia about the relationship is not unhealthy. It shows you care. If things go wrong, it must hurt. Action to get the magic back has to be instant and properly targeted. Sometimes this entails a shake-up. New, energetic people may have to be introduced to the mix; people capable of challenging the status quo at the right time and questioning previous assumptions. Hands-on engagement has to be apparent at all times; from the very top. Sleeves have to be rolled up and results achieved, this year and next. Because relationships take hard work and the focus has to be on the time to come, not the time you’ve both got on the clock.

What’s past is past. The future is where the excitement lies.

A 10-, 15- or 20-year relationship happens one day at a time. The days entail paranoia and passion, frustration and fun. One of those days, your 20th anniversary arrives. You look across at your partner and say ‘Doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself?’ In advertising, you’re too busy to renew your vows. You’re always working on the next ad and your long-term partner trusts you to make it a good one. You? You’re not happy unless it’s a great one. That’s the best way to keep your clients…

By Danni Dixon

Managing Director
 TBWA\ Hunt\ Lascaris Johannesburg.

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