The modern agency-client relationship report card

In school, the Report Card is a time-honoured tradition. You do the work; your parents find out about your work; you have a follow-up conversation with them about working harder. Rinse. Repeat.

I remember being in school and bringing my Report Card home. Sometimes it ended up on the fridge (next to my brother's, whose was perennially there, each with more gold stars than the last), but more often it ended with a discussion with my parents around expectations, priorities and improvement areas.

I used to fear those conversations.

But, now that I'm older, I realize the importance of the Report Card was to prompt those conversations. To provide motivation to dig deeper, try harder, and address lingering bad habits before they became set behaviors.

The same is true with the Client-Agency Relationship Report Card.

What is a Client-Agency Relationship Report Card?

At ZGM, we evaluate our agency-client relationships annually. We do so because, like life, relationships require hard work, lots of communication and constant course correction. ZGM’s Relationship Report Card is comprised of two Report Cards – one for the client to fill out, and one for the agency to fill out. Both parties evaluate the others’ performance, and report on what each are doing well, and where improvement is required.

You may be asking yourself 'why would an agency open themselves up to that abuse?'

‘why would an agency open themselves up to that abuse?’

The answer is simple – as agencies and clients both get busy in their day-to-day lives, it can be easy to bury your head and accept the small frustrations you have with one another. Communication issues. Insufficient briefs. Over-reliance on email. The problem is that these little annoyances can start to add up to big issues if not addressed. And while we always encourage open dialogue with our clients, acceptance can often be easier than confrontation. So, the Report Card gives us a channel to prompt conversations. To talk about the issues that aren’t easy to talk about. To address frustrations before they become insurmountable issues. And it works! Every single time we have gone through this exercise with a client, the relationship has become stronger and more transparent because of it.

There’s also a great saying that is used in business – If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed. By scoring the agency’s most valuable client relationships annually we can manage how we service our clients. We can identify trends and opportunities, also shore up any holes or fix any deficiencies we may have.

'By scoring the agency’s most valuable client relationships annually we can manage how we service our clients. We can identify trends and opportunities, also shore up any holes or fix any deficiencies we may have.'

Where it started

In 2011, ZGM was a member of the Institute of Communications Agency (ICA). Through this membership, we were able to adopt and adapt some of their boilerplate documents, including their agency-client Report Card. It was good. It brought discipline to our process and gave us a quantifiable tool to prompt more conversations with our clients on where we could be better. And vice versa.

At that time, the ICA also identified some bad habits of clients. And agencies. These points became foundational in developing our service expectations for clients.

Bad Habits of Agencies (According to Clients)

  • Lack of understanding in their client's business.
  • Too much entrusted to inexperienced people.
  • Insufficient senior involvement.
  • Under-staffing and turnover.
  • Defensiveness, especially when creative is critiqued.
  • A loose shop on timelines and budgets.
  • Antipathy to research.

Bad Habits of Clients (According to Agencies)

  • Not sharing information.
  • Unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved for the budget.
  • Unfocused strategies.
  • Unwillingness to approve breakthrough ideas.
  • Over-reliance on research.
  • Not understanding the benefit of the account being profitable.
  • Not realizing how important it is to be a great motivator.

In this business, we are always measuring things. Business performance, campaign performance, conversion, views, clicks, etc. We believe that our most valuable asset, our client relationships, should be measured too.

The Modern Agency-Client Relationship Report Card

There has been a lot of change in the last decade. Like a lot. There are agencies doing things the way they have always done them. Then there are modern marketing agencies.

Modern marketing agencies are:

  • Shifting away from the billable hour.
  • Aligning themselves, and their compensation, with their client’s business success.
  • Custom-building compensation agreements for each and every client.
  • Developing metrics agreements for each campaign and can measure performance in real-time.
  • Integrating into their client’s overall agency ecosystem.
  • Blurring the lines more and more with in-house teams.
  • Accepting that social and digital channels are key elements in any campaign.

It is because of these changes, and more, that we are now modernizing our Agency-Client Relationship Report Card. And simplifying it too. Because the nature of agency-client relationships are changing, so too must the mechanism we use to measure and report on these relationships.

'Because the nature of agency-client relationships are changing, so too must the mechanism we use to measure and report on these relationships.'

The major areas of change are:

Frequency - A once-per-year check-in made sense as an AOR working within a multi-year contract. But those are becoming fewer and farther between. The marketing world is becoming more about ‘what have you done for me lately?’. We can no longer wait a year to address issues and change behaviors. And, as we are being held more accountable to moving the needle and producing results, we need complete transparency with our clients. We require more from our clients, and they should expect more from us. The modern Agency-Client Relationship Report Card will now be reported on quarterly.

Criteria – Our previous Report Card measured specific criteria within the agencies largest departments, namely account management, creative, media and digital. And while much of the criteria remains relevant, it all needs to be looked at through a modern lens. No longer should we be calling out ‘digital’. The whole world is digital. Perhaps we should be evaluating our proficiency and relationships in product design. And user experience. These can live on and offline, and the teams are multi-disciplinary.

Collaboration – With all our clients having some level of in-house capabilities, modern agencies should be measured on their ability to collaborate with these in-house teams. How we play with others in the sandbox. These relationships can be a source of frustration for clients and agencies alike without clearly defined roles, and an agency should be measured on the effectiveness of how well they play with others.

Digitized – Our old Report Card was built as a Word document. It was shared through email and printed to be reviewed. It worked fine. But, as stated earlier, the world is digital now, and our Agency-Client Relationship Report Card should be too. We are in the process of digitizing this process, as any modern agency would. The next step will be to build a dashboard so that clients and agencies can review and track progress over time.

Compensation – As stated, we have diverse compensation agreements with our client partners. Where possible, we try to align some form of our compensation with our client’s business results (Payment-By-Results). And while this alignment fosters great client relationships because of shared objectives, we believe a modern agency should take this one-step further and tie a portion of their compensation to successful client relationships.

Modern Report Card Coming Soon!

Our clients will start to see our modernized Report Card roll out later this quarter. And while this process and tool will have that shiny, new Report Card smell, it is important to note that our objective has not changed. We are trying to encourage and promote conversations with our clients that might not typically happen. We are quantifying our feedback in order to manage and track our performance. And to have the tough conversation with our clients. Just like my parents use to have with me. And never with my brother.

If you would like to see a copy of ZGM’s Modern Agency-Client Relationship Report Card, please email me below and ask for it. When it’s finished, I will send it over.


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