Putting the Personal Back In the Agency Partnership Experience
I think we can all agree that 2020 pulled the rug out from under us. (And for some of us, that rug felt like it was 60×80.) But what if the monumental shifts last year actually enabled us to set a new foundation and definition for what an agency partnership experience should be? Despite how difficult the past year has been, it was an opportunity to work together to rethink and rebuild the foundation for working relationships. Survival required embracing change, committing to transparency, and nurturing real trust between Client and Agency.
Creating an impactful agency partnership experience has always been my passion. And 2020 was a catalyst for propelling this singular focus forward. Come along with me, and I’ll tell you a bit more about what I mean.
Firstly, let me say that I vehemently dislike the verbiage “supplier” and “vendor.” While it might be true that agencies technically do sell and supply services, and those terms are documented in the paperwork, we know that day-to-day, those are reductive terms. Think about it. Do you think “supplier” and “vendor” actually exemplify the value of how a Client and Agency come together to do incredibly remarkable things? Me either. By mere definition, those words are transactional. When you work with your favorite agencies to bring impactful ideas to life, do you feel like those are transactions? I hope not, and if you answered no, it’s probably because you’ve built something greater — a solid agency partnership.
At Dragon Army, we’ve always known that it takes a true partnership to make an impact. In competitive agencies, doing remarkable work will always be table stakes. Being a great partner is where the difference lies. We know that truly great, lasting, higher productive support exists beyond the dotted line. It’s literally my job. It’s also my greatest joy to work on that higher value side of the spectrum with our partners. It’s not transactional and not something we’re “supplying” as a “vendor.” It’s relational and based on trust and genuine care for your outcomes.
An Agency Partnership is an Experience
From the beginning of my career in NYC at DraftFCB, I’ve always felt a deep sense of purpose around Inspiring Happiness for my clients. I was given notice very early on in my career that Account Management is the “one throat to choke” on any given agency team. Of course, this intimidating and unpleasant concept led me to wonder, “why am I getting choked?” What was so wrong with the system that this kind of direction was necessary? I honestly didn’t want to find out. I wanted to change the scenario completely.
It wasn’t until I joined Dragon Army in 2016 that I realized I’d spent my career trying to alter that paradigm. I had seen for myself that surface-level, transactional relationships don’t foster respect or even the basic requirements for an ‘okay’ partnership. I’ve spent the last four years working alongside our Dragons to build a new kind of Partnership Experience in the agency world. It’s one that blends personal and professional. It recognizes that businesses are made of people. And it highlights that, just because those people are sitting behind desks doing work, it doesn’t mean they’re not human beings with goals and feelings.
2020 Peeled Back Our Shields
In 2020, we experienced a new reality. For most people, personal and professional worlds collided. Maybe you had that moment where a little one ran screaming into your Zoom call? Or your pet (accidentally?) made a surprise appearance in a meeting and then decided to become a weekly fixture. Whatever your unique “mishap” may have been, it made you even more human to the others who work with you, including your agency partners.
The days of sitting behind our corporate desks seem long gone. Who we are as people is now vastly present in our day-to-day interactions. Do you really want an agency that just executes for you? That sets its sights on satisfying a scope? Those are vendors. We’ve experienced how much relationships matter and, quite frankly, how inspiring and productive they are. Especially in this new landscape where smaller budgets have to make a greater impact, brands need agency partners who go beyond a bullet point, pivot as the inevitable barriers arise, and not only think about your business but think about YOU in the process.
If 2020 showed us anything, it’s that transaction-based relationships are not enough to meet the needs of organizations, their customers, and their people.
A New Recipe for Sweeter Partnerships
So what are the ingredients of a good partnership? I admit that I’m a horrible cook in the kitchen, but I couldn’t be more passionate about making the recipe for a great partnership in my office. (It happens to also be our guest room and a favorite doggies play space.) My ingredients are preparation, collaboration, transparency, honesty, trust, and flexibility. This might sound like a simple recipe for success. It’s become second nature for me, and I can promise that, like any excellent offering, it’s not just the ingredients that matter. It’s how you work with them and how they blend together at various steps in the process of cooking up something remarkable.
Operationally incorporating these pillars into a partnership isn’t natural to everyone. That’s okay. We’ve found, especially over the past year, that following the recipe to the line doesn’t work for everyone. Understanding our partners’ unique preferences and needs is what has mattered most. The most successful partnerships have shown that we support each other enough to change as needed to ensure budgets stretch further, impacts are felt wider, and goals are more tangibly in reach.
Do you Have a Supplier or a Partner?
As you continue into 2021 and plan for the unforeseeable, take a look at who you are standing next to at the starting line. This year, the kind of support we all need is more than what a “supplier” can provide. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you look forward, with new awareness at new possibilities:
- Is my vendor a true partner in how they regard our business?
- Does my partner support me personally?
- Does my partner support my business beyond what’s asked?
- Do I have a partner that will pivot with me and think creatively about problems as they arise?
How you answer these questions today will say a lot about where you end up this time next year. Empathy is currency. If you’re going to do great work, especially in an environment of uncertainty (which we’ve learned is the only certainty), your agency partner needs to be close, collaborative, agile, and capable of looking out for you. This has always been the Dragon Army way of doing business. Our purpose is to Inspire Happiness, and we do that by producing quality, competitive work that values each partner professionally and personally. How can we Inspire Happiness for you? Reach out and let me know.