By: Erin Kennedy and Lori Johnson | Account Directors

We spend a lot of time at work. For us full-time employees, we see those we work with more than our families. Successful business partnerships are key to happiness, low-stress levels and ultimately a better work-life balance. But all relationships, good and bad, require constant work and attention.

In an environment where business moves fast and patience wears thinner, the industry average for a client-agency relationship is just 3.2 years. That’s down from 5.3 years in 1997, which is significant when you consider that in 1984 the average was 7.2 years.

As a marketing agency who has worked with big brands for more than 30 years, we have had our fair share of lessons. We’ve learned that long-term success requires substantial levels of transparency, collaboration and trust across all parties.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, there’s no better time to explore the necessary characteristics of a successful partnership.


Find a Cultural Fit

It’s obvious how establishing an agency’s culture can be essential for employees. But below the surface, culture can also be a deal breaker for business partnerships. When evaluating new agencies, some clients even use a weighted score card and – you guessed it – chemistry is typically a category.

Related: Relationships Matter No Matter What

When Simantel recently started courting a new global client, a family-owned-and-operated business, we knew right away the company was compatible with our privately-owned, independent agency. Both of us have gone through immense growth spurts and successfully adapted to stay at the front of our respective markets. No matter the partnership, we always look for common ground because a shared understanding directly impacts success.

Here are some additional tips to ensure a strong cultural fit:

  • Look for a company with values that align with your own
  • Identify shared goals to work toward
  • Make meaningful connections
  • Find ways to have fun along the way


Establish Transparency

You have friends, and you have good friends. Good friends will tell you like it is. The same applies for business relationships; be honest. It’s a vulnerable thing to do, but is more appreciated and creates a stronger connection in the long run.

In a recent report by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), client-agency transparency was slammed. Our industry has spoken – greater transparency is needed. From our experience, here are a few elements needed for success:

  • Encourage participation from both sides and from all levels of the team
  • It might be frustrating in the moment, but being upfront displays integrity and builds trust
  • Don’t just talk about it, demonstrate authenticity and loyalty through the work
  • Open the lines of communication. Sometimes lack of transparency isn’t intentional, it’s due to miscommunication.


Remain Open to Collaboration

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. This adage holds true in business. When our clients succeed so does our agency, and vice versa.

Companies often jump into relationships without considering the collaboration architecture. It’s important to establish and structure collaboration from the beginning, designating a team member to oversee communication and potential conflicts of interest. In addition, here are some steps both sides can take to improve collaboration:

  • Share data (and set up an efficient way to do so)
  • Take a look at your technology; if it’s a barrier to share resources, fix it!
  • Share goals, budgets and resources with each other to save time and establish trust
  • Don’t be hesitant to have all partners come together (client, agency and vendors)
  • Great ideas can spout from anywhere. Truly listen to each other with an open mind, and explore suggestions from the other point of view.


Bonus Tip: Be Patient

Spend time getting to know each other’s respective business. The best relationships allow time for this, even if work needs to be done right away. You’ll see the agency become an extensions of the client’s marketing team, and the relationship will truly morph into a partnership.

Just like a personal relationship, don’t jump ship at the first sight of conflict. Healthy conflict may push you out of your comfort zone to work harder and produce a better outcome. The relationships that have been through the ringer, are the ones that come out the other side stronger. It’s important to work through the hardships in the interest of long-term success.

At the end of the day, we are all working toward one thing – make a living and support our families. All while making meaningful connections and producing work we can be proud of.