Why sacrificing chemistry for cash is one of the biggest mistakes agencies can make

To appropriate the popular Love Island term, agencies often see an RFP hit their inbox and get excited about working with a brand they think is their 'type on paper'.

Don't sacrifice chemistry for profits, warns Natalie Neave
Don't sacrifice chemistry for profits, warns Natalie Neave

However, experience tells me that overlooking bad chemistry with a future client because it involves a sexy brand name and big budget is the biggest mistake an agency can make.

The thing is, you can’t force chemistry; it’s a gut feeling, an emotion, and it can’t be scored with a number.

But we know most business models are built around bringing home the bacon – cold, hard cash.

New business teams are tasked with expanding the pipeline and jumping at every possible chance to add to the company’s bottom line.

The idea of turning down work based simply on the mood in the room seems ludicrous.

But while it’s no secret that chemistry is important to every successful relationship, we must not underplay its significance in producing the very best work from agencies.

A relationship based on trust and respect – and, let’s be real, basic manners – is always going to triumph and accomplish better things than one based on lack of trust and a reluctance to engage.

You can mainly tell from that initial 60-minute face-to-face meeting how a relationship is going to go.

Just like in a happy marriage, fundamental, respectful human behaviours hold things together.

It helps keep energy levels high through the ups and downs of a campaign and maintains the magic that keeps creativity flowing and results flooding in.

The tension between profit and positive working relationships is an emotional dichotomy – and believe me, I’ve learned this the hard way.

Short-term gain for the P&L often leads to long-term pain if the fit just isn’t right; bad team morale, over-serviced accounts, staff resignations and, ultimately, leaving an agency worse off than if it had just said its polite goodbyes at the chemistry meeting and walked away.

Instinct and smart business sense tell us to partner brands and clients that share similar values.

But do we do it enough? Probably not.

PRs needs to get better at giving potential clients their own feedback after chemistry meetings.

Rather than a one-way street of clients score-carding agencies, PRs need to set their own standards and criteria for prospective clients – and stick to them.

These include shared values and cultures, engagement and attention to the conversation or presentation, as well as passion, enthusiasm and energy.

How many times have agencies turned up to chemistry meetings with key decision-makers checking emails or typing away at laptops?

These behaviours can be signs of how a future relationship might turn out.

Agencies need to experience how empowering it is to turn down work because you respect your talent and team too much to put them through the pain of working with bad clients.

Good chemistry results in a motivated workforce, better results and, ultimately, more like-minded clients.

It’s a cycle of good energy.

So, when do you say no? How do you know when enough is enough?

Unfortunately, it’s not an exact science.

Yes, there are some obvious signs – but really, your best guide is your gut. Your natural intuition is the one thing that never lies; you just have to trust it and be brave.

Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there… even if the money is.

Natalie Neave is a director at Tin Man Communications

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