Candid conversations lead to better partnerships

Breaking out of the average client-agency relationship isn't easy. One way to do it: start with a candid conversation about what's possible and what's not.

Imagine what would happen if each agency and client had a very candid and intentional conversation about value. Beyond the budget, media placements, and even some of the key performance indicators we agree upon, there are unspoken variables that never come up, and the agency-client relationship dynamic is highly transactional.

When my family moved into our home five years ago, we had some renovations done. Many were necessary for the overall upkeep of the place, while others, like adding a master bath, were totally cosmetic and done because we wanted to have that amenity.

One area we could have remodeled that we did not was our deck and backyard. With the weather getting nicer in Chicago, we revisited this conversation and had our contractor come over recently to give us an estimate.

After showing him some renderings we had done and talking about the other modifications we had in mind, we quickly moved on to the most pressing points of the discussion: how much is this going to cost? And how long is it going to take?

This deck and yard have been a thorn in my side for five years. There isn’t a time we come in or out of our garage that I don’t think about having it updated. It is both a cosmetic desire, as well as a necessity for the safety, upkeep, and efficiency of our home. Now is the time, and it is important to us to have it done well.

Our contractor was very resolute in his response. Based on what we laid out as our desired outcome, he gave us a firm price and a timeline. He was very clear about variables he could not control, like weather, custom finishes, and a few other aspects.

As we told him we would talk it over and get back to him, I thought about how often PR agencies and clients do this same dance, but with less transparency. Often a prospective or even longtime client comes in and says, "Here is what we need and here is what we want—and this is the time in which I want it. What are your recommendations? And how much is it going to cost?"

In most cases, agencies get off to a great start, excitedly going back and having internal brainstorming sessions, inviting the most creative thinkers in the company, and even offering food or snacks as an incentive to get the juices flowing. We put together our most amazing plan, full of bells and whistles. Then, we deliberate about budget. Who’s on the team? What percentage of time? What do we charge other clients? How badly do we want the business? Do we believe the client will pay or shy away based on the initial number? This is the same process over and over again, but, hey, it’s the process.

The client reviews it, and if procurement is involved, we don’t even have to talk about what happens in that scenario. Sometimes, it’s a quick discussion, and if the team dynamics, ideas, and strategies all align, we get a greenlight. If not, the back and forth can be challenging, to say the least. In a best case, the client provides budget up front.

I get a lift when I see agencies break the mold and promote culture internally and with clients, going beyond fluff and words and truly making it about understanding value for all parties involved. The same can be said of those clients that come to the table with a strong sense of who they are and what they stand for, maybe even aware of accepting what they don’t know and embracing an agency partnership from every perspective.

Having candid conversations and being mutually aligned around value is key to a winning partnership. With it, far fewer agencies would water down their recommendations out of fear of how clients might react. Far more clients would open to new and different ideas because they would connect with their partners around previously established common ground.

It was refreshing how our contactor was able to be so confident in his recommendations. Based on his experience and our list of wants and needs, he was candid and concise in his response. He provided examples of his work and scenarios where he had encountered similar challenges to ours, and gave alternative solutions that allowed us to make a very timely and informed decision. We wanted the work done and wanted him to do it. He is capable of and delighted to do the work. The value proposition works.

Needless to say, he starts next week.

Rashada Whitehead is a professor, writer, and the president and chief transformation officer of KGBERRY, an organization that helps conscious companies navigate big changes. Connect with her here on Twitter.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.