Did you know the average client-agency relationship lasts only 2.5 years.
The statistics are both sobering and, sadly, unsurprising.
Client-agency relationships are more fragile than ever, thanks to:
- Our 24x7 news world
- The immediacy of social media
- Wall Street's relentless pressure on CEOs to produce positive quarterly results.
The latter is the real catalyst for change. The chief executive of a publicly-traded company places tremendous pressure on the CCO or CMO who, in turn, ratchets up the heat on the agency.
And, when the competition is outflanking the client organization and sales are flat or down, the first people to face the executioner's sword are, in fact, the agency account team. It's a food chain in its most perfect form.
At the same time, I've been a first-hand witness to the adverse impact of technology on client relations. In many instances, e-mail reports and weekly phone calls have replaced in-person meetings. It's so much easier to relay news, especially if it's negative, by e-mail or text.
As a result, the bonding that used to occur over lunch or a game of golf has all but disappeared. And the rich relationships that developed from face-to-face meetings have been replaced by ephemeral, text-driven communications that are an inch deep and a mile wide.
So, nowadays, when a highly-stressed CEO sneezes, his CCO catches a cold and the PR agency dies. It's that simple.
Elizabeth Zea, a partner at Juel Consulting, said, 'As an industry (she was referring to advertising, but her words apply equally well to PR), it feels like we have lost sight of what it means to have a relationship.' Amen.
We've tried various methods to deepen client relationships, including quarterly reviews, substantive interviews between our consultant and the client, and quantitative surveys.
In the end, though, our relationships of longest standing have thrived for one reason: the account manager has made it his or her business to develop a personal, face-to-face relationship with the lead client.
In some cases, though, all the relationship-building in the world won't matter because the CCO needs to show the CEO who needs to show the Street that they're listening and making changes.So, instead of sending the usual 'Dear agency' termination note, CCO's about to end a 2.5 year relationship might want to borrow a line from my mom (who used to tell travelling salesman: “'I'm not interested. Here's your hat. What's your hurry?”).