The agency/client dynamic is an interesting one. At the end of the day, one group (the client) is paying another group (the agency) to create something, to be creative. How subjective is that? And although an agency’s job is to help solve their clients’ tough business and marketing challenges, it always gets personal. As with anything in the service industry, relationships matter.

What do our clients want—even expect—from us on the agency side? We went to the source for some straight talk on what clients want from their agency partners.


I love—love it—when you tune into the cadence of my work life. I hate to say, “Oh I’m so busy” (because that’s just boring) but when you do things to ease the burden of my busy day, I swoon. It’s as easy as using clear subject lines in emails, keeping those emails short and straight to the point, and maybe throwing that project schedule back in there so I don’t have to go hunting for it. Oh, and about those straightforward emails. Please don’t bury the lead. I’ll miss it. I’m super busy, remember.


You’ve asked me to consider you guys as an extension of my team, and trust me, I want to. But you’ve got to figure out how it works around here. You can start with the org chart, sure. Know where I sit in the organization, who my boss is and who her boss is. Learn as much as you can about how we all fit together, which departments intersect and where the interdependencies are. But please don’t stop there. Get to know the personalities, work-styles, priorities (and quirks, even) of the key players I need to influence every day. The better you understand the dynamics of my corporate family, the more successful we will be together.


I’m not suggesting you have to put up with a bunch of crap from me, or that you can’t ask for what you want too. I’m just saying, take the time to find out what’s going on; it will pay off. Am I jammed up all day every day at back-to-back meetings? Send me the information you’d like me to review the night before the call, so I can read through it in the evening. Do I like to iterate real-time with you on creative? Then don’t send round 2 via email, schedule a check-in with me to share your rationale. Do I have a ton of tricky internal stakeholders who like to see their thinking influence the outcome? Let’s talk about ways to make sure their DNA comes through.


On calls and in conversations, I’m probably throwing out clues as to what’s going on and I often think (or worry) out loud. Help me find a solution to my problems, and you’ll have a partner for life. Do you know I have skeptical stakeholders? Provide rationale to back up your creative, or serve up a set of talking points I can use to socialize the work. Can you tell I’m worried I’m not getting everything I can out of my SEO strategy? Ask to set up a meeting with my search agency to talk about how you can work better together. There’s the assignment, and then there is all the other stuff that makes the assignment more successful.

Companies are making purchase decisions in a much more matrixed way than ever before. That means the value-add is not just in the creative product an agency provides. It’s also in agency’s ability to navigate the vendor management, brand, legal and compliance hoops.

I spoke to a client about this post, and she put it perfectly. “When I tell you, ‘I need you to know my business’, I mean it. But what is unspoken is what really makes the next assignment come your way. I need you to know the pain points in my day-to-day.”

What is unspoken is what really makes the next assignment come your way. I need you to know the pain points in my day-to-day.

Kari Olivier worked in various corporate marketing roles before migrating to the agency side. Kari is a writer, workshop facilitator, marketing strategist, and advisor to leaders at Fortune 500 companies and SMBs. She is co-founder of Jute Creative, a branding, marketing and communications agency in Portland, Oregon.

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Agency-Client Relationship, Client Services, Creative agency, Jute Creative, Portland

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