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It's all about the chemistry

In the relationship between agency and client, chemistry creates trust and fosters creativity says Focus PR's Hillary Crossing.

When you come of age, as Focus PR did on 6 June 2012, you can't help but reflect on what you've learned, as you plan the next 21 years. One thing that always troubled me - and I have never understood until now - is the fact that in almost every piece of research focusing on why a client chose its appointed agency, the number-one answer is, invariably, chemistry. I always wanted it to be results, return on investment, effectiveness or commercial value - something tangible where we can demonstrate, indeed prove, delivery.

But my epiphany moment has arrived. I have come to understand that if the chemistry between the client team and the personalities of the agency team gels, that is when great results come to fruition. When human beings have the confidence and are given the latitude within the brief to be bold, that is when a step-change in outcome can come to pass.

Now, after all these years, I understand why clients vote first for chemistry.

I consulted one of our clients, Eileen Livingston, marketing controller at Maxxium UK, for her thoughts. She said: 'Our most powerful results have been consistently driven when we work in complete partnership with our agency. The key to success is built on the two core pillars of mutual respect and trust. These pillars allow me to see the agency as a critical extension of my team, which I trust implicitly. The successes we have shared with Focus PR have been fuelled by the genuine interaction between the teams and the shared desire to transform the way we PR our brands - a successful chemical reaction if ever there was one.'

And if you apply this principle to the agency model, it is cheering.

There is a challenge in the world of PR right now whereby well-rounded and experienced PR operators hit their mid-30s and often change career. They may become a parent, move abroad or switch profession. If they continue in the PR industry, it is often on a piecemeal basis.

But these freelancers, however talented, cannot contribute to and consistently nurture that all-important chemistry - and this is what clients buy.

And this is where consultancies can triumph. Over the years, we have built up a core of great people. Some have grown with us and our client base for five or six years, a few for more than 15, and they share and respect common traits. It is these people who win and retain the most valuable client relationships. Freelancers can float in and out and provide specialist or general support during crunch periods, but they are not the drivers and are not the future of any agency or client-agency partnership. They have opted out of that responsibility.

In such challenging times, with everyone worried about security and sustainability, client side and agency side, chemistry counts more than ever.

It is crucial to create an environment of encouragement and openness in which everyone feels they have a meaningful contribution to make, where individual ideas will be welcomed and built upon collectively.

It is chemistry that feeds creativity.

And creativity is our oxygen.

In discussions with Traci Dunne, consultancy manager at ISBA, it became clear that she echoes this sentiment. 'Whatever the team structure, the bedrock of good client/agency relations is communication, which itself stems from good chemistry,' she says. 'Without it, you wouldn't be able to engender nearly enough mutual trust to foster the sort of environment where creative ideas can flow without fear of them being unduly shot down.'


If your agency was an Olympic sport, which would it be, and why?

Eventing requires passion, trust and working in partnership. Like dressage riders, we are skilled and graceful in our presentation and delivery. We have the strength and stamina required for cross-country. And we bring the accuracy and focus needed for showjumping.

What has been your greatest digital 'lesson' this year?

An integrated digital campaign is like a garden. It must be nurtured and closely managed, little and often, to help it flourish. Neglect it and it will grow out of your control; don't feed it enough and it withers.

Hilary Crossing is managing director of Focus PR

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