Long-term client partnerships demand extra effort

Like any relationship, building long-term client partnerships takes work. To keep clients on board over time, agencies are closely monitoring and enhancing the service they provide to meet their clients' needs and expectations.

Like any relationship, building long-term client partnerships takes work. To keep clients on board over time, agencies are closely monitoring and enhancing the service they provide to meet their clients' needs and expectations.

GolinHarris' 51-year relationship with McDonald's has become a model for other client partnerships. To maintain this and all of its client relationships, the firm has an annual review process where it surveys clients to uncover weaknesses and develop a plan to resolve any issues.

In addition, the firm has the Client Agency Relationship Enhancement (CARE) program, where it brings in third-party consultants who specialize in agency-client relationships. CARE advisers make recommendations about where the partnership can be improved.

"Al [Golin] always says that the key to the relationship with McDonald's is the attitude that we just won the business," says Ellen Ryan Mardiks, chief client officer for Golin.

On a less systematized level, Golin staffers call clients at least quarterly simply to ask how they're doing.

"Even the healthiest relationships have room for improvement," adds Mardiks. "We make sure that we're open to hearing about that."

At Weber Shandwick, the top two or three layers of management are actively involved with clients, many from the moment the account is won. The firm's Client Relationship Leader (CRL) program provides senior managers with an ongoing review of individual client work.

"We dedicate the resources to make sure our client relationship leaders have the most up-to-date practices and access to ideas," says CRL head Ken Luce, who adds that knowing a client's business intimately is key.

"We're deeply ingrained in their businesses," he explains. "When you become more of a partner with your clients, you understand how things work and how to make [them] work."

Articulate Communications, which has worked with CDC Software for five years, tries to establish a long-term bond at the beginning of the relationship.

"How we got the client in the first place was domain expertise," explains Laura Grimmer, CEO of Articulate. "We knew their business, it was a fast ramp, and we know the industry as much as they do."

Flexibility is also important. People will come and go, budgets often change, and clients may enter new markets. Having a relationship with people throughout the organization - and having a willingness to roll with the punches - is critical.

"As a service provider, we must be learning as the client is evolving," adds Grimmer. "Going the extra step to expand and grow makes for an exciting relationship."

Across the board, the agencies agree that establishing these long-term relationships offers benefits to both sides.

"Long-term partnerships allow us to dig in and show tremendous value to the client's business over time, " says Mardiks. "It's rewarding for people to work on, and it defines the agency."

Key points:
Looking at how the business was won initially can help in maintaining a long-term relationship

Knowing a client's business and industry intimately helps forge the partnership

Talking to clients about the relationship - and how to improve it - strengthens the client-agency bond

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