5 Keys to a Successful Client-Agency Relationship

Posted August 2, 2016 by swimcreative

Great relationships aren’t born, they’re built. One of the hallmarks of every great relationship is trust. When you think about it, trust is really a by-product of performance over time. It’s hard to walk into a client’s boardroom and say, “trust me.” We find it a whole lot easier to behave in such a way that fosters trust. Over time, trust grows.

But what about Day One? How can you lay the groundwork for a mutually beneficial relationship that will lead to that Promised Land of business success, creative accolades and mutual friendship?

In thinking about it, we came up with a list of characteristics that we try to foster in every new client relationship.

International Business Sensibilities.

Let’s go to Rio! Just kidding! Not really! The point here is that, in business culture outside of the US, the two parties involved enter a relationship in the truest sense of the word—that is, one party does not win every time. Same thing goes with a great agency/client relationship. The willingness to give and take is not so much a sign of weakness as it is a sign of respect, by both parties, together.


Here’s an indicator you are not in a great spot: something is presented, there is a long silence… until someone blurts out, “Or, whatever you think.” You gotta know what you know.


You have to know what you don’t know. “I don’t know” are some of the most powerful words. They indicate a high level of trust, and the possibility of failure—two ingredients necessary for success. Of course, an agency saying “I don’t know” too often is just a sign of laziness, which often leads to two even more powerful words—“you’re fired.”

The Second City.

The Chicago-based Improv Everywhere helped advance the phrase, “Yes. And…” as a means of always advancing a premise. “Yes. And…” is a means of acknowledging, validating and redirecting, and it is a vital skill to quickly and efficiently refine ideas between a client and an agency. “No” isn’t exactly a cuss word, but it’s close.


Adjusted Gross Income? Agrarian Grape Index? No. Assume Good Intent. It is a great baseline directive that fills in gaps like, “Wow, that was a starkly-worded email,” and “I wonder what he meant by that?” Throw a little AGI on it, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your stress level goes down.

There’s more to it, of course, and like life, every client-agency relationship is unique, with its own characteristics, challenges and personality. But, if both sides internalize and really apply these five characteristics, you’ll be amazed at the work that an agency and a client can do together.

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