Agency-Client Rules of Engagement (How To Make The Relationship Work)

The beginning of any relationship is exciting and stressful at the same time. You get butterflies in your stomach and you’re giddy—you don’t know what to expect.

The beginning of any relationship is exciting and stressful at the same time. You get butterflies in your stomach and you’re giddy—you don’t know what to expect. When you finally pick the one, and commit, you may also ask yourself: “Did I make the right choice?” And “How can I make this last?”

The relationship I’m referring to is the partnership between a client and their respective partners (e.g., marketing, social, seo, branding, design agencies, etc.) When you cut a check you are essentially married to your new business partners throughout the project. If it’s a good relationship, it should lead to many more projects. If not … well … you know where that’s headed.

To ensure a successful relationship, heed these five rules of engagement before you fall head over heels in business.


Rule 1: Don’t keep secrets.

Be transparent about everything pertaining to your business relationship. This is a two way street. The client should work closely with the agency’s team. And in order for the agency to create a well thought out strategy all background information about the brand, even things that you may not think are relevant, should be shared. Oftentimes it’s in hidden or overlooked aspects that the most insightful nuggets are discovered.


Rule #2: Honesty is the best policy.

A client should always clear the air and be honest with an account lead. This person will be your day-to-day contact on the project and will live and breathe your brand. In order to do this, a client must be candid regarding the good, the bad and the ugly. If there is an open, honest conversation expectations will be met. This could be as simple as telling your agency partner you prefer email to phone calls. Or it could be an operational focus, possibly an internal crisis that exists and could impact the agency relationship.


Rule #3: Third time’s a charm.

Don’t be afraid to ask the same question twice. You may be new to the process, the lingo, the creative process, stages of work, and even the team. If you don’t understand something, ask for further clarification. If it still isn’t clear, ask again.

For example, I run a branding and design agency and a former client was quiet throughout the first design review that detailed how the packaging would look with the new identity. She was with her boss and it wasn’t until the meeting ended (and she returned to her office) that she contacted me to fire-off a million questions. She was embarrassed to ask questions in front of her boss, but that’s when the Q/A should have occurred. It would have made her appear more thorough and ensured everyone was on the same page.

There is nothing wrong with asking questions in order to make sure everything is crystal clear. While this may seem obvious, it is often the difference between a good brand and design strategy versus a great one.


Rule #4: Create a bond.

As the client, establish a tight bond with your account lead. They are your eyes and ears when working with their internal team. It is through your personal conversations that you can share major decisions or insights that impact the project outcome. You may think it’s the sole responsibility of the account liaison to establish a tight relationship, but it’s also to your advantage as the client to help build and maintain it.


Rule #5: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Lastly, this one should be obvious to all. Treat your agency partner with respect. You would be surprised how many people take out frustrations, and stress on those they care about the most, which doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

You only get the best out of people when you treat them the same way you want to be treated—not by intimidation or making them feel unappreciated. It is not only unproductive, but also wrong. Treating those who care about you (and your brand) with no respect can only create bad feelings and will make all parties question the relationship. Heed this warning. Agencies have fired clients over the way they mistreated them.


For those who are new to the agency-client relationship, I hope these words of wisdom are useful tools to make engagement a seamless transition. Who knows … your new partnership could turn out to be the most successful relationship you’ve ever had.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Francesca Vitali is an expert in brand building, with extensive experience working across all categories; from food, wine, & spirits, to fashion, beauty, and health & wellness. She has worked with global, iconic brands for companies such as Pepsi, Mondelez, Starbucks, and Unilever. Vitali now consults entrepreneurs to help them with branding and design. She also runs Connect; a monthly meet-up group uniting women entrepreneurs through discussions that inspire, mentor and help each other get to the next stage in their journey. Connect with @vitaligemella on Twitter.


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