In a March 19 column, "Relationships can hinge on how 'partnership' is defined," (sub req'd) PRWeek's Julia Hood analyzed the delicate balance and nature of agency-client relationships and explored the client's perception of a true partnership.
She was correct in saying, "Clients who use that designation [true partner] are looking far beyond specific services and strategies, to the values and culture of the firm."
There's no question that business-building creative and strategic counsel are critical in establishing a solid foundation with a client partner, but in my opinion, that should be the price of admission for all PR agencies.
Intangibles differentiate firms and serve as the key to forging longstanding relationships. To that end, professional service firms should hold close the words of Abraham Lincoln, who said, "People won't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."
Agencies small and large must make it their passion to cultivate deeper and more meaningful relationships with client partners. The establishment of such alliances should be a cornerstone of an agency's vision and serve to inspire, energize, and motivate the entire organization. Senior management must understand the importance of living, breathing, and articulating this desired outcome every single day.
There must be an outward expression and demonstration of genuine interest woven into the fabric of every value-laden solution provided to client partners. This will assure them of your commitment and lay the foundation of trust - the true barometer of every meaningful relationship.
Clients become true partners when a comfort level is achieved, and despite what some industry leaders believe, client partners gain comfort in people, not agencies. Retention, especially at the senior account management level, is a key factor in the cultivation of a mutually beneficial relationship. Improving and preserving the agency culture provides client partners with the continuity of senior-level counsel and attention they deserve - on a day-to-day basis, year after year.
In 1989, my first year at Taylor, I was assigned to support MasterCard's sponsorship of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. I worked closely with a MasterCard marketing executive whose commitment to excellence was an inspiration for some, but a challenge for others. If you couldn't match her passion and dedication to achieve greatness in leveraging the world's leading sports property, you wouldn't have a place on her team. She made that clear, early and often.
Taylor gained her confidence that summer and strengthened its position with MasterCard via a solutions-oriented approach to every marketing communications challenge faced on foreign soil. Her trust in Taylor grew, knowing we would be there for her each step of the way.
Here we are, 18 years later, and Deborah Hughes' commitment to excellence as MasterCard's VP of global sponsorships is stronger than ever. She continues to experience Taylor's dedicated approach and loyalty to the brand.
Most important, however, is that deep in her heart she knows how much we care about her. That's the essence of a true partnership.
Tony Signore is CEO and managing partner of Taylor.