Burden of expectations rests with clients, not just agencies

Communications pros often talk about what clients should expect from their agencies. That's an incomplete question. In the best relationship, it's just as vital for clients to be good partners with their firms. So what should agencies expect from client partners?

Communications pros often talk about what clients should expect from their agencies. That's an incomplete question. In the best relationship, it's just as vital for clients to be good partners with their firms. So what should agencies expect from client partners?

Blur the line between client and partner. A lot of valuable time, energy, and resources are wasted when agencies engage in old-school "client service" behavior that progressive clients don't ask for - or want. Call it posturing instead of partnering.

How many times has your agency created a lengthy presentation or report when all you asked for was a simple answer to a simple question? Or brought out a lunch spread that could feed an army when you said you would stop by for a half-hour discussion?

There are plenty of clients that still demand such hand-holding, but if you're not one of them, let your firm know. Your agency will be able to focus more energy, creativity, and talent on your highest-value work.

Encourage agency pros to play to their strengths. The irony is that the skills that helped build the careers of top agency pros often get them promoted to leadership posts that keep them far from the action. That can quickly make your account leaders out of touch with the real world - and your clients.

A good client knows the strengths and contributions of individual agency team members and works to ensure the right roles for each person based on their talents and unique approaches. Few people are good at everything, so encourage your agency to tap their specialists, even if it means sharing talent across multiple accounts.

Don't relegate your agency to a tactical role. IBM did some great early work in social media, but turning to our agencies (Ketchum and Text 100) in our "Smarter Planet" campaign helped broaden our thinking. It helped us globally showcase our vision to influencers who will make decisions on billions of dollars of government stimulus spending. By challenging our firms to drive strategy instead of playing a tactical role, we got much more out of the entire team.

Define success. Good clients ensure - no, demand - that their agency understands and agrees on just what constitutes success. It all flows from there: how you deploy each person to earn it, how to keep up with changing criteria, and when to celebrate success.

Edward Barbini is VP of external relations at IBM.

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