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Agency Management Lessons from a 50 Year Client-Agency Relationship

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Adweek not long ago highlighted the 50 year relationship between Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett and insurance giant, Allstate.

At a time when so much is written about the decline of long term client - agency relationships, this one receives plenty of interest.

The article reveals the five things Lisa Cochrane, Allstate EVP of integrated marketing and Nina Abnee, Burnett EVP of account management learnt from having survived and subsequently prospered from a difficult period in 2003.

They identify 5 important learnings to building a successful long term client – agency relationship:

1. Be Honest and Commit

Allstate's Cochrane was honest in naming problems with the relationship.

However, she also gave her commitment to work with the agency to solve those problems and to build a better relationship.

That gave the agency an environment where they could confidently air their views and make changes to the way they did business with their client.

2. Accept Responsibility and Rebuild Trust

Both sides accepted responsibility for previous weaknesses in the relationship.

For example, Allstate recognised they were responsible for the briefs and had, at times approved lackluster work. Burnet accepted they let staff become complacent on the brand and had lost sight of its essence.

Cochrane recognised Allstate was not the account Burnett people wanted to work on and set a personal goal correct the problem.

Significantly, there was agreement to change; in the way Burnett worked to Allstate, in staffing, and with new compensation arrangements that recognised business growth, as examples.

3. Listen … and Make Your Needs Known

Both parties invested in listening to the needs and expectations of the other, and to communicating their own needs.

Better communication brought out that Cochrane wanted more staff on the account, and for Burnett to liaise more closely with the media agency, Starcom. Abnee wanted better direction, strategy and approval processes.

With these needs clarified, both parties committed to make change. Said Cochrane "My team had to match the Burnett team in commitment and talent and experience."

4. Set Aside Time for Each Other

Aside from adopting more face-to-face meeting time and more opportunities to review work-in-progress, Cochrane and Abnee committed to monthly dinners (where Allstate and Burnet each took it in turn to pay) with the core team on each side of the business attending.

The shift to add informal meetings to the schedule of formal presentations provided another means to develop a deeper level of understanding.

5. Have Fun

Both sides admit the relationship still requires a significant amount of work and along with that goes some tension. So they’ve agreed to inject some fun wherever they can to help ease some of those tensions and facilitate a better working environment.

Conclusion 

Abnee makes an interesting concluding comment that perhaps summaries what’s most important to all of this when she says: “There were a lot of good people before us, and there are going to be a lot of people after us. At some point there has to be a commitment to the brand.”

Author: VJ Ratnam (Decideware)

Source: Adweek, Lessons from Allstate, Burnett, 23 Jul 2007

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