POTENT PARTNERS

What makes a relationship between an agency and its client work? Anita Chabria speaks to 20 corporate experts who share their secrets behind partnerships that have prospered during both good and bad times

What makes a relationship between an agency and its client work? Anita Chabria speaks to 20 corporate experts who share their secrets behind partnerships that have prospered during both good and bad times

1. Bally Total Fitness and The MWW Group MWW and Bally have worked together for more than 13 years, growing the relationship from corporate communications and limited consumer marketing to an extensive consumer program. The agency was hired by former Bally chairman Arthur Goldberg and has survived changes in both top management and the communications department. Over the years, MWW has helped the fitness chain develop consumer programs, such as a long-running Thanksgiving promotion called Feeling Fat Friday, as well as philanthropic activities and communications strategies for major corporate milestones, such as the Crunch Fitness acquisition. Bally's relationship with MWW comes down to "consistency and senior-level commitment," explains Jon Harris, Bally's VP of media development and communications. "By working with the same core account team, we've been able to focus on doing the job right without distractions and disruptions." 2. Charles Schwab & Co., Latin American and Caribbean Region, and Rise Strategies (formerly Communiqué Group) The Communiqué Group, as it was then known, was hired by this division of the brokerage giant more than six years ago to help with counsel for its Latin America and Caribbean Region (LACR), explains Julio Velis, director of Latin America Center and the US Hispanic market and international region manager for the Southern cone for Charles Schwab & Co. The relationship has grown to include general audience media outreach, executive communications, as well as aiding with reviewing agencies, and potential marketing and advertising plans and partners. What makes the team extraordinary, says Velis, is that "there's no learning curve. They've been with us through a number of company changes, launches, and experiences. Plus, we don't just talk business. [Rise principal] Rosanna Fiske understands how important the family component is for conducting business in Latin America and the Caribbean, and she makes that a part of the business relationship." Family may be important, but so are results, and Fiske delivers on both. "When we started working together, the LACR was starting its growth," says Velis. "In 1998, when we conducted a media audit, only 5% of the media in Latin America had heard the name Charles Schwab. In a 2002 media audit, 42% of the media in Latin America knew our name, and more importantly, knew what we did." 3. Combe and Robin Leedy & Associates Combe, maker of healthcare products such as Lanacane and Vagisil, hired Robin Leedy & Associates (RL&A) for media-outreach project work nine years ago. The agency's success not only gained consumer attention, but also helped convince management of the value of PR. "As Combe is such an advertising-focused company and, historically, had not bought into the value of PR, RL&A has been crucial in helping us convince Combe marketers and management of the benefits of creative, professional, consistent PR programs," says Marcie Klein, Combe SVP of PR and corporate communications. "From its first assignments, RL&A has consistently come up with creative, yet very viable PR solutions to generate national publicity for small-share, mature-niche products, for which there was virtually no media awareness. In the case of Vagisil, the agency has had to struggle with its 'unmentionable' image and the challenge of getting media to feature it on TV morning and news shows." 4. Easton Sports and Formula PR Formula was hired by Easton five years ago to handle new product launches for its softball bat business. Since then, the account has grown to include the Easton hockey, baseball, grassroots, and corporate/CEO functions. "[Formula's staffers] do an excellent job with the basics, but their value increases daily as they demonstrate their thorough understanding of our business by suggesting new and innovative ideas for us to consider," says Easton VP of baseball and softball Mike Zlaket. "Whether it's a promotion around Sammy Sosa at a Cubs game, or a street team dispatched to promote around the College World Series, they consistently come up with good ideas that are realistic to execute and fit within our budget." Zlaket also credits Formula with growing the bottom line. "We've established record levels of sales and profits during each year we've been with Formula," he says. While he acknowledges that Formula isn't the sole reason, "it's played a huge role in our success and is one of the main reasons why our brand is at an all-time level of strength." 5. Hyundai and Ketchum Hyundai hired Ketchum to handle a broad range of communications issues, including product PR, product introductions, corporate communications, issues management, and assistance on day-to-day challenges for national and Western regional work. But, says Hyundai director of communications and PR Chris Hosford, the agency's work was so impressive that it won an expansion of business into the Eastern region after a year. Hosford says part of the relationship's success is due to Ketchum's consistent attention to detail. "A big project for a major agency client tends to attract the most attention, best talent, and greatest involvement at a firm," he points out. "The day-to-day work, routine projects, and 'normal' programs are where you can see if an agency has real depth and commitment to do each and every job right. Ketchum scores strongly in that area." Hosford adds that the relationship is strengthened by close, frank communication between firm and client. "A successful agency-client relationship is a partnership," he says. "Each side is responsible for telling the other when it is screwing up. Tact is great, but without honesty, it is pointless." 6. Loews Hotels and Redpoint Marketing PR Relationships are a cornerstone of PR, and the Redpoint/Loews account shows just how pivotal they can be. Redpoint was asked to participate in a 2002 agency search because Loews VP of PR Emily Kanders had been mentored by Redpoint principal Victoria Feldman de Falco years before. "Vickie is an inspiring manager who attracts and cultivates great people," says Feldman de Falco. "We work as a team, and the results show it." Since winning that six-month branding project (with an idea for a pet-themed holiday program that garnered coverage in Time and Newsweek, among other outlets), the firm has become AOR and expanded the account in both revenue and responsibility. "Redpoint has regularly delivered mega-hits," says Feldman de Falco. "We were on Today twice in 2003 with feature spots more than three minutes long. This kind of placement is unheard of in the world of travel PR." 7. Louisiana Governor's office of Coastal Activities and Marmillion & Company "The 'America's Wetland: Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana' is the largest public awareness campaign in Louisiana's history," explains Sidney Coffee, public affairs director for the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities. "This campaign isn't an easy one. Yet, the professionalism of Marmillion & Company has been beyond our expectations." Marmillion was hired by the state of Louisiana to develop and run a national educational campaign to inform Americans about the effects of wetland loss along the state's coast. The resulting three-year effort has reached out to everyone from legislators to environmentalists. "It's a difficult mission. We're bringing together supporters who are often from opposite ends of the spectrum - for instance, the oil industry and environmental groups, commercial fisheries interests, land owners, the business sector, and many others. These are groups that sometimes don't interact and often don't get along. The firm has kept everyone focused and has taken painstaking efforts to ensure that no one special-interest group takes center stage. We've attained a level of success at this stage of the game that we didn't think possible." 8. Luther Vandross and Dan Klores Communications Creating lasting relationships in personal publicity is one of the most difficult tasks in the business, since success in this area of PR often requires an intangible mix of skill and chemistry. But DKC EVP Lois Najarian has forged a bond with longtime client Luther Vandross that goes well "beyond business," according to Vandross' personal assistant Max Szadek. "Luther and Lois have a special relationship that isn't just work," he says. The greatest test of that connection came a year ago when the singer suffered a severe stroke before the release of his new album. Those close to the star knew it was important to him that the music find its way to fans, and so the challenge became promoting the album without exploiting his illness and rehabilitation. The team was so successful that Vandross won numerous awards, including four Grammys, despite being largely unable to speak to the press. "Lois really empowered everyone in our group to go out and use the press, media, and PR to really help Luther in a way that wasn't frightening," says Szadek. "She became such a solid ally in the team. She really stepped up when we lost the captain of our ship and made it all happen. When you find someone like that, you don't let them go." 9. Travelocity and Vollmer Public Relations "Our relationship is more about collaboration than it is counselor-to-counselee, and I think that's why we have been successful," says Travelocity VP of PR Al Comeaux of the company's eight-year tenure with its PR firm. "As an agency, Vollmer is very interested in results. They are very good at thinking about and applying the right resources to client challenges." Vollmer was hired by Travelocity in 1995, to help with the launch of its fledgling website in 1996. In that time, the account has grown from about $10,000 a month to more than $100,000, as the travel site has gained in market share and added responsibilities have been assigned. Comeaux says that kind of success isn't just luck. It's an understanding of how to work together. "Clients should think of your firm as part of their organization in every way possible," Comeaux explains. "It's important to keep them up to speed on every aspect of your business - beyond what might hit the media radar screen - and to make sure they know you expect straight answers. It's also important to have a good sense of humor. It fosters much better relationships." 10. Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and R&R Partners You may have noticed Las Vegas has a new tagline: "What happens here stays here." That campaign was sparked by R&R research showing that visitors respond to an emotional image of Las Vegas as a city of freedom more than anything else. "It's a simple line that makes a big statement about a city that lets you be whoever you want to be," says Terry Jicinsky, VP of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). It may be simple, but it was a huge shift in focus for both the LVCVA and R&R, which has been its AOR for an impressive 25 years. The new campaign was a move from a product-oriented focus to an emotionally driven message. That kind of willingness to learn and adapt is core to the relationship between the agency and the Authority. "R&R's ability to develop branding campaigns that adapt to evolving travel trends, both nationally and internationally, has won us acclaim worldwide," says Jicinsky. 11. Network Associates and Porter Novelli Network Associates VP of corporate communications Jennifer Keavney started working at the company on the same day that Porter Novelli came on board nearly seven years ago. "They have been my team ever since," she says. That team has handled a wide range of assignments from name changes to acquisitions to consumer PR. In 2002, when Network Associates reacquired McAfee.com, the company conducted a formal agency review. Not only did PN win, but it also won an expansion of the business. "We've been through a lot together," says Keavney. "But probably the most impressive project was PN's support when the executive management team changed in December 2000. When I learned of the executive's departure during Christmas, my first call was to Porter Novelli. The team mobilized and within minutes we had the expertise and resources needed to manage the communications. During such a pivotal time for the company, we resolidified our relationship." 12. Texas Instruments DLP and Rogers & Cowan Introduced by Rogers & Cowan (R&C) ad-agency sister company Temerlin McClain, R&C was hired by this Texas Instruments (TI) digital division to increase the awareness and stature of TI's cutting-edge technology among the entertainment elite, such as directors, theater exhibitors, and film enthusiasts. Based on the success of that first project, R&C expanded the business to include TI DLP's business products support, as well as programs in Europe and Asia, and was named the division's AOR in 2003. The relationship has grown so strong that TI recently hired a R&C staffer to work in-house. "We work not only as a unified team, but also as colleagues with mutual respect and appreciation," says TI DLP worldwide media relations manager Molly Mulloy. "The hands-on involvement of senior staff, including the CEO of the agency, demonstrates their deep commitment to our business." 13. Monster.com and Weber Shandwick Weber Shandwick was appointed by Monster.com as its AOR in October 1999 after a competitive RFP. The company hasn't held an RFP since, instead focusing on growing a relationship that Monster PR manager Kevin Mullins calls "a true partnership." WS has run a number of programs, including publicizing Monster's Super Bowl commercials, launching initiatives like Monster Healthcare and Monster Public Service, and a variety of thought-leadership programs. "While it sounds cliché, the agency is an extension of our internal PR team," says Mullins. "Every effort is a collaborative one, from writing press releases and brainstorming ideas, to developing presentations for other departments and initiatives within Monster. Mullins offers this advice for building lasting agency-client relationships: "It's important to treat the agency as a partner," he says. "This includes giving team members exposure to several members of the marketing team, including other vendor partners who handle ads, direct mail, and promotions, as well as other departments within the company, like sales. It only benefits your company in the end if everyone works together to reach one common goal." 14. MasterCard International and Alan Taylor Communications Alan Taylor has worked with MasterCard for 15 years, primarily handling integrated global marketing efforts, including support of the "Priceless" ad campaign, sponsorships with high-profile organizations such as Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and soccer's World Cup, and interactive marketing and promotional programs. All that grew out of a 1989 project to leverage MasterCard's sponsorship of Major League Baseball. "The top global project the agency implemented on behalf of the brand was supporting MasterCard International's sponsorship of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan," says MasterCard VP of global communications Chris Monteiro. "In total, more than 850 media placements were secured, which generated 2 billion positive media impressions between January and July 2002." But the relationship involves more than just media work. "They're literally viewed as an extension of our global marketing communications team and are truly considered part of the MasterCard family," says Monteiro. "The team takes a 'whatever-it-takes-to-get-the-job-done' approach to every project and consistently delivers high-quality results. This is very refreshing in today's bottom-line-driven, cost-cutting agency landscape." 15. VeriSign and Bite Communications "Having the home phone number is one thing," says VeriSign's corporate communications director Brian O'Shaughnessy of what makes a good client-agency relationship. "Having someone willing to take the call in the middle of night and give strategic counsel and perspective is quite another. What makes [this relationship] great is commitment to success and the commitment all of us have to each other." O'Shaughnessy explains that Applied Communications (the firm later merged with Bite and took its name) was chosen as AOR in August 2001, but the ride hasn't always been smooth. After the Bite-Applied merger, VeriSign spoke with other firms "in case we had to make a quick switch or get in position to put out an RFP." But the quality of the work stayed high, so VeriSign stayed put. "Over the course of the past year, the relationship has really begun to blossom," says O'Shaughnessy. "We have come through what was arguably one of the toughest few years in IT. VeriSign has managed to hone the working relationship with Bite, and as the corporate message architecture evolved and we found our corporate voice, Bite was integral in that process." 16. PacifiCare Health Systems and Golin/Harris International Golin was hired by PacifiCare in 1994 to explain managed care to constituents at a time when HMO-bashing was in high fashion. The company was brought on board after an RFP and has since weathered subsequent reviews due both to its record of success and closely meshed relationship. Today, the account has a new focus, aimed at proactive media outreach and integrating more public affairs activities into existing programs. "Golin is an integrated part of our team, yet also provides us with the outside perspective we need to keep us 'real' about programs," says Tyler Mason, VP of PR for the healthcare giant. "They push back with us, and we are just as frank with them. Sometimes they're wrong, but we value their opinion because it's usually based on sound knowledge and experience." 17. Mazda and Hill & Knowlton Faced with image problems soon after entering the US market 25 years ago, Mazda sought help from H&K in the midst of a major crisis. After the introduction of its first US car, Mazda was criticized both for an oil leak problem and EPA concerns over the fuel efficiency of the automobile. "In 1975, Mazda came to H&K with a significant challenge," explains Mazda VP of public and government affairs Jay Amestoy. "The company literally had thousands of cars sitting at the docks unsold. H&K was hired to help Mazda's sales and marketing execs move those cars, but, perhaps even more importantly, work closely with Mazda management to help lay the groundwork for the introduction of the automaker's next generation of cars, which would become critical to Mazda's long-term viability in the US market." H&K handled that crisis with such aplomb that it has been asked to launch every subsequent product ever since, making this quarter-century-old account one of the longest and strongest in the business. Based in the LA and Irvine offices, the account has weathered several executive management and ad agency changes, and recently expanded to include regional H&K team members to support Mazda on a local level across the US. The H&K team works on multiple facets of Mazda's operations, including corporate reputation management, crisis counsel, product promotion, and enthusiast outreach. "We've moved from a core focus on automotive PR to a broader role in which both Mazda's in-house PR team and H&K interface both with senior management and with the marketing team at Mazda to help build sales and address dealer issues," says Amestoy, a one-time H&K employee. 18. Siemens Medical Solutions and Stern & Associates "The level of trust is special," says Kimberly Cooper, PR director for Siemens Medical Solutions, of the relationship between her company and Stern & Associates. "I share a lot of information with them and treat them as if they were members of my immediate team." Stern was hired more than five years ago to support trade media for the medical business. The relationship now includes everything from overall media outreach, to managing a speaker's bureau, to providing general counsel. For a strong agency relationship, Cooper warns, "your agency is only as good as the support you provide. You cannot expect results if you do not provide them with the internal resources they need to be successful. And above all, be sure you manage the agency, not the other way around." 19. WellPoint and Powell Tate WellPoint hired Powell Tate (PT) in the fall of 2000 for a corporate positioning/ CEO awareness campaign after WellPoint VP of corporate communications Ken Ferber interviewed "eight of the leading agencies in the nation," he says. Based on the success of that endeavor, WellPoint put PT on retainer for additional projects. Since then, the firm has survived three reviews and won an increased budget each year. In addition to handling consumer issues, such as the switch of Claritin from prescription to over-the-counter, PT handles larger corporate issues, such as the company's current deal with Anthem - valued at $16.4 billion. The agency has also worked on WellPoint's nation-wide childhood obesity initiative and a recent announcement of a project to give $40 million of technology to physicians in key markets. "Powell Tate team members have a comprehensive understanding of our industry and of our company," says Ferber. "It is critical that the agency you select know your industry and fully understand the political and economic landscape in which you operate." 20. Silver Dolphin Books and Steven Style Group PR professionals know reputation is everything, and that adage proved true when Silver Dolphin, which specializes in children's titles, went looking for an agency of record five years ago. Based on Steven Style's reputation as "a leading children's entertainment marketing communications agency," Silver Dolphin gave the agency sole access to the RFP, explains Bernadette Baillie, associate director of marketing and publicity for parent company Advantage Publishers Group. But that doesn't make the account a gimme. Silver Dolphin conducts an annual review and "the agency's work is continually under examination," promises Baillie. So far so good. "Our relationship with the Steven Style Group continuously grows because of their success in creating brand awareness and increased sales," says Baillie. "Unlike with bigger agencies, we constantly receive senior-level attention and have direct access to the agency principal."

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