The Evolution of the Marketing Agency-Client Relationship: What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been

Posted By Beth Crawford & Scott Mikus

Every now and then, I think back to when we were first setting up shop in 1989. If you’re like us and have worked in the creative industry for a decade or two, you’ve seen a lot of changes in your career. For us, one of the most striking changes is in how we look for and manage agency-client relationships.

Back in the early days of Crawford/Mikus Creative Marketing & Design, collaborating with clients was the name of the game. We were constantly on the road, meeting with clients about campaign strategies, discussing new projects, sharing layouts and doing press checks.

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s a very different world. We’ve gone from face time to Facebook. Now, days or weeks could go by without seeing a client in their offices or in our studio at Atlanta’s King Plow.

Initial inbound and outbound marketing strategies are still developed face to face. However, from there on out, individual projects rarely involve face-to-face meetings. Instead, projects proceed through a series of follow-up calls and emails. Reason being, many clients are time crunched, struggling under heavier workloads and trying to do more with less.

For several of our larger corporate clients, receiving a new job consists of getting an e-mail “ping,” we go out and pick up the job in a project management app, do the job and then post it on a server. From there, client associates from around the globe give input and mark up the layouts. Then, we make revisions and wrap up the job. Some projects might not involve a single one-to-one call. And we are not talking about one job here; we can be managing as many as 20-30 jobs in this capacity.

From an implementation and execution perspective, working like this leaves the door wide open for assumptions, generalizations and miscommunications. In this environment, it’s a never-ending challenge to manage expectations and client communications – not to mention, the technology hiccups that can occur internally and externally throughout the process.

In terms of flexibility, we don’t have to be tied to the office all day, every day. But it also means we’re tied to our work for longer hours and we’re expected to be electronically accessible virtually all the time. Have you ever tried to conduct business at the zoo or aquarium with your child? Do you ever get frustrated when you lose your mobile signal inside a Target store (it’s the concrete walls!)?

However, the upside is we’re finding more opportunity (and profit) in collaborating with strategic partners and offering a wider breadth of services. We’ve also been able to extend our client base well beyond Atlanta to places like New York, New Jersey, Chicago, California and Florida.

In a recent blog post, we offered 13 tips for client-side marketers on how NOT to choose an agency. We should also write a post for those of us on the agency side about how to choose our client relationships wisely and then to nurture them like we would a well-cared-for garden.

What we have learned from our 20-plus years running an award-winning creative marketing and design studio is that change demands adaptability. We have to be willing to reach out proactively to clients, immerse ourselves more than ever in their corporate culture and make sure we completely understand their business needs and goals.

As project managers, we need to keep an eye on the details. In understanding the client and utilizing both inbound and outbound marketing strategies, we are better able to position ourselves for the long term with a client. We become a partner, not just a vendor. And, those are exactly the kind of agency-client relationships we’re looking for.

All in all, it’s been a wild and exciting ride, and the one thing I can say is, it ain’t over yet!

Beth Crawford and Scott Mikus are principals of Crawford/Mikus Creative Marketing & Design in Atlanta. Follow us on Twitter @CrawfordMikus or subscribe to our blog at www.crawfordmikus.net/blog. A version of this post originally was published in the February/March 2012 issue of Oz Magazine, a business-to-business magazine for and about Atlanta’s visual communication and media industry.

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