Sitting on the Same Side of the Table: How to Create Real Business Partnerships With Clients

By Alex Friedman, President of Ruckus Marketing

The advertising market is constantly facing the cyclical issue of brand building versus measurable ROI. These days, with ad budgets shrinking, brand building is the first thing to go.  It’s the most difficult thing to measure with granularity, so support for this essential element of advertising is often dismissed in favor of micro-measured initiatives. Instead of focusing on the big picture, clients are demanding directly quantifiable results from digital media or other verifiable platforms.

Sure, emphasizing clicks can lead to measurable ROI, but in the long term, brand connections and affiliations are weakened or lost, causing deterioration of the consumer brand relationship.  Brand building takes time, patience, and lots of repetition.  Unfortunately, when budgets are squeezed, brands don’t have time, lose their patience, and lose faith in long-proven rules of customer engagement.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Marketers can and should help their clients navigate the leaner times by moving beyond the traditional creative engagements to drive real business value.  As an Agency, our responsibility to our clients is to implement growth solutions that they cannot otherwise execute internally.  It’s a responsibility that is agnostic to the channel we choose, the creative we bring forward, or the awards we win.  It’s about helping them see the forest through the trees and doing it from the same perspective.

It’s not for every agency. Some are micro-specialists.  Some are pure creatives.  Partnering with a client takes business acumen and a deep understanding of the company’s architecture. It requires looking under the hood, assessing the risks and diving in. It’s always useful to understand how the business works during flush times. The true test is getting it when conditions aren’t perfect.

Here’s how marketing agencies can drive client growth and add value during tough times:

Take a deep dive into the sales model

Any good agency needs to understand the economics of the products or services their clients are selling to model a proper marketing campaign.  At the end of the day, the only responsibility an agency has is to improve sales. If they’re not doing that they’re going to get fired. No matter how great the creative is.

Partnering with the client requires a much deeper understanding of the P&L that your marketing and advertising work impacts.  If an agency can meet the needs of the company, and add value, they should have that conversation. In select situations, you become so intimately involved that the revenue relationship between Agency and Client may change.  Perhaps even some form of revenue share or equity position becomes more fortuitous.

If the nucleus of a client company is strong and you can figure out what makes the business tick, you can be a great business partner, not just a great creative partner.

Chose the type of deal that works best for your agency

Every deal is different. It depends on the founders/owners, their market strength and their industry.

If you’re working with a company that you absolutely love, you might decide that you want to take the relationship to another level. If there’s a mutual opportunity to do so, try approaching the firm about a deal.

In an uncertain economic environment, there may be a client that can no longer afford an agency. If the business is strong and the marketing firm has the know-how, there’s another opportunity for a deal.

Deals can take the shape of a reduction in fees for an equity stake, revenue share, deferred fees, or perhaps even a capital investment opportunity for the Agency.

Look for the right opportunities

Business consulting is the fabric of what we do. We look to do deals with accounts that align with the core of who we are and what we do well because we’re going to do the best work for those kinds of companies.

If an agency has the business acumen and the resources, partnerships can be an invaluable add. They can deliver real value for the client, aligning the agency and their interests and creating work that’s purposeful, in terms of the creative and the bottom line. And that’s a great feeling.

The bottom line

Forging business partnerships can help clients maintain solid growth strategies during uncertain economic times and create new revenue streams for agencies. It takes business acumen, ample resources and a deep dive into the company’s structure. Seek out partners who align with your core competencies for long term success. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride. It takes risk to get the best reward.