Cheryll Forsatz 30 Mar 2021 // 12:00PM GMT
Relationships between agency and client-side teams are crucial for effective corporate and brand communications. But often it can seem like in-house and agency teams are speaking different languages – after all, we do have different jobs. I’ve experienced this on both sides, growing up professionally at agencies big and small and also being at the helm in-house at McDonald’s and now at Ferrero US.
For agency professionals looking to grow, deliberately building a deeper understanding of your clients as professionals and people can generate stronger communications results and advance your career.
What is the “why” behind their assignments?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen agency and client-side communications and PR teams make together is starting work with assignments rather than objectives. This habit of running through a checklist of “client asks” and agency teams moving ahead without asking questions can lead to misunderstandings – and depending on the situation, simply executing on the wrong idea. The best work I’ve seen comes out of true strategic partnerships between client and agency teams that start with business objectives.
The next time your client gives you an assignment out of nowhere that’s outside a brief – especially if it is unclear why – consider responding with, “We’re happy to do that but tell me more. What does success look like?” Understanding the “why” and communicating as a partner rather than arms and legs will almost always help you do a better job at the assignment, and often even enable you to come up with a more effective approach.
What problems are they solving beyond your agency’s scope of work?
Something I did not fully realize until I myself became a client is that in-house marketing and communications leaders often, in football terms, play the role of general manager, quarterback and player. They are often responsible for so much more than what is in your agency’s remit – everything from building consensus and managing relationships inside the organization, to learning about and preparing for confidential emerging issues and potential crises, to managing their team’s performance and professional growth.
If you can learn about the different roles your client plays beyond your work together, you can better understand how your work fits into their professional life and how you can support them throughout their day. Ask them what’s keeping them up at night, outside of the specific project(s) you are supporting. You may learn crucial context about the work you’re doing and how it plays into the broader goals and priorities of the organization.
What are their professional goals?
As an agency pro, you know it is your job to make your clients at all levels look good, but you could probably do this in a more deliberate and specific way. Just like you, your client has a boss, objectives, and milestones they’re judged on, as well as their own ambitions for promotions and achievements.
Do what you can to understand what your client talks about with their boss, what their professional goals are this year, and where they see themselves in the future. If you can help your client tell their boss a great story about their performance – and be a key supporting character in that story – you will move beyond making them look good – they will look great!
Whether you’re on the client or agency side, relationships matter in the communications business. From the new associate to the principal and every role in between, there is an enormous amount of business and professional growth opportunity for individuals and teams to carefully and deliberately build understanding of their client-side counterparts, not just as clients but as humans, and make it their goal to help them achieve their ambitions.
Cheryll Forsatz is vice president, corporate communications & public relations at Ferrero USA.