The PRCA and Question & Retain co-hosted an event looking into the often-thorny issue of client/agency relationships. The event featured a panel discussion looking into how to get it right for both agencies and in-house teams, and provide examples of how relationships have gone badly wrong! The panel discussion was chaired by PRCA Director of Communications Matt Cartmell and featured senior in-house and agency communications professionals. There was an opportunity for networking over drinks and canapés. The event featured Question & Retain’s Pulse Checks, revealing the industry’s own views on client/agency relationships.

The panellists:

  • Fiona Wilkinson, Chief  Communications Officer, Visa Europe
  • Hugh Davies, Director of Corporate Affairs, Three
  • Caroline Kinsey, Founder and Chairman, Cirkle
  • Andy West, Group Chief Development Officer, Hotwire

PRCA & Question & Retain (Q&R) ignite new debate around the Good, Bad and Ugly in client/agency relationships

July 2014 – The PRCA & Q&R recently hosted a live debate looking at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Client/Agency Relationships, drawing on insights and learnings from industry heavyweights Three, Visa Europe, Hotwire and Cirkle.

Chaired by Matt Cartmell, Director of Communications for the PRCA, the debate focussed on the role chemistry plays in the client/agency relationship, following the results of Q&R’s Pulse Check (June 2014) which found that 71% of agencies believe ‘great chemistry and mutual respect’ are the most important factors in making the client/agency relationship work.

In-house guest speaker Hugh Davies, Corporate Affairs Director at Three, challenged the findings observing: “Your starting point has to be: do you understand the client’s objectives? From there, how accountable will you be for achieving/realizing these? And equally, are you the right person for the job? Finally, have you the right resources in place to do the job? If you get these four things right i.e. objectives, accountability, capability and capacity, then the chemistry will come.”

Fiona Wilkinson, Chief Communications Office, VISA Europe, added: “Without chemistry, the agency/client relationship doesn’t work in the very long term,” while acknowledging that the agency needs to understand the client and have an open and honest dialogue at all times to help forge a two way relationship.

The agency panelists talked more on establishing trust with their clients from the offset of the relationship, with Caroline Kinsey, Chair of Cirkle, commenting: “For some, chemistry is a lightweight word. Saying we like each other is not good enough. For agencies, it’s all about becoming and acting like trusted advisors.”
Andy West, Group Chief Development Officer, Hotwire, added: “Bottom line? It’s about having a shared agenda that has a level of openness, transparency and trust embedded in it.”

Attending the discussion were approximately 40 representatives from a number of UK PR agencies as well as in-house communications leads. Questions and contributions from the floor included:
* Human communications, conflict handling, relationship building – how do you train your team in this? The panel recommended a live conversation with a client or face-to-face is always the preferred communications route. This is a skillset that you need to have in business and be comfortable with.
* Working in a non-blame culture is key to help people learn and grow
* It’s about practicing the fundamental communication skills – invest in really understanding your client’s world
* Chemistry is a very subjective term and means different things to different people
* Some agencies recommended using ‘Discovery’ profiles to support/nurture client/agency relationships. As a team, it enables you to create a team that is structured around the client’s personality
* It’s about appropriate creativity, not just opportunism and how creative ideas need to be linked to the communications objective
* Bad agency/client relationships are born out of unrealistic expectations, so the bottom line is – be honest

Q&R Pulse Check results, June 2014

Sample: 400 + UK PR agencies