Tom Carter
Tom Carter 17 December 2018

Quick fixes or hard yards? The power of (and secret to) long-term, successful brand-agency relationships

Diverse roster of niche supplier agencies, or a smaller number of long-term partnerships? While the former presents a more dazzling venture, it is the latter that tends to hold the formula to a business’ sustainable, resilient growth and success. Developing a trustworthy relationship with an agency that naturally fits and acts as an extension to your team is the key to a business’ evolution and longevity. The agency partnered with must know where your business has come from and more importantly, where it is headed, and it shouldn’t be afraid to challenge your thinking. Tom Carter, Client Services Director at bigdog explores how through playing the long game, business and agency relationships can sustainably grow and succeed together.

We all know brand marketers are increasingly being asked to deliver more. But frequently this demand comes with the added pressure of static or shrinking budgets to play with. That in turn impacts on the decisions you make regarding how best to spend your time and funds. Do you race around in search of a supplier to ‘fix your immediate need’ or invest in partnerships that pay back long-term?

At bigdog, our average client tenure is over twenty years, so we’ve seen first-hand the value of investing time in building proper partnerships. From the ‘Inside Out Banking’ campaign we recently delivered for Barclays Corporate, whose success was due in no small part to the insights we’d learned over ten years working on the brand, through to the numerous award-winning campaigns we’ve delivered for Aviva during our nearly 25 years of partnership, we know how invaluable resilient business collaborations can be. While a transient roster may seem exciting (agencies are good at dazzling), real partnerships are more likely to lead to long-term results and incremental growth, even if that means an investment of time and knowledge upfront.

Look beyond our own work and there’s good evidence to back up the strength of this approach. From MullenLowe’s work for Unilever through to BBDO’s relationships with General Electric and Mars, there is no doubt long-term agency / brand partnerships often lead to iconic advertising and commercial success.

Going the distance

There is no secret to long-term success. Nor are there any guarantees. But to share some of our guiding principles:

  1. Spend like it’s your own

Whether clients have a budget of £1k or £1m – it’s important to respect the fact that one way or another, they’ve had to fight for that money, so spend it wisely. And more than that, help them understand what return it’s getting them. At bigdog we talk about ROI as BrandPayback™. However you frame it, it is the agency’s responsibility to communicate what their work is delivering back to the business.

  1. Believe customers over hype

Our industry is obsessed with tech and it’s all too easy to lose sight of the customer when you’re busy trying to ‘call’ the next shiny new thing.We have a Digital Labs programme that allows us to play with what’s new - but we only recommend it to clients once we’ve established that there is definitely relevance for their customers. Taking this approach means clients are comforted that they won’t get left behind the curve, but neither are they spinning in circles trying to evaluate the latest array of tech offerings.

  1. Be involving

In most cases, clients love being part of the work’s creation – it is after all one of the best bits of the job (ours and theirs). Some agencies make the mistake of taking a brief and then going into their black box before going back to the client for a ‘ta dah’ moment. Rapport is important, agencies need to feel able to confidently open the door into their world and work with brands to create and shape the work. By hearing their views along the way, agencies learn yet more about them and their brand - how they think and what they want.

  1. Stay fresh

For all the benefits a long-term (agency/client) partnership brings, its curse is stagnation. So, take the opportunity to mix it up, bring in new ideas and remind clients why they fell for you in the first place.

  1. Always remember

We are in the business of changing behaviour. Keep this in mind always (because it’s often forgotten). If the work isn’t influencing changes to the way people think and do - your next brief might well be your last.

So, what do brands gain from taking the long-term approach?

An agency who knows you well enough to bring you your next brief – and answer it. But more than this, an agency who understands where you’ve been, and where you’re headed. One that truly gets your brand. People you can trust to talk to your stakeholders, without you needing to be in the room. Who will work behind the scenes with the rest of your roster to make things happen, without you needing to referee. An agency who can offer honest counsel and not just say ’yes’. When it comes down to it, an agency who you’ve invested in, is also invested in you – and are there when you need them to be.

Sustainable business success isn’t about rapid or radical change, it’s something that evolves over time. That’s why it pays to play the long game.

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