Closing the Client/Agency gap: it’s time we walked in each others shoes

Clear communication and honesty can help drive better working relationships.

Linn Frost

Managing Director, UK & Europe The Social Element


As an industry, we continually debate which ingredients lead to the best results.  Brand vs Performance, Strategy vs Creative and Inhouse vs Agency.  At the centre of each debate sits two sides with people that pull the levers on each. So what determines their success? My money is on a strong relationship which is built on expertise, empathy, clarity, trust and the ability to have adult to adult conversations.

In 2019 I had the opportunity to become ‘the client’ which made me realise that the grass isn't greener on either side, it's just a different shade and if we have a good understanding of each other's challenges and ways of working we can make some very simple adjustments that have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the work we do together.

Every piece of great work starts with a well thought through brief.

Linn Frost, MD at The Social Element

It has now been 12 months since I have been back in agency land, and as such it’s a good time to reflect on what my time client side has taught me.

Clarity is key - both sides need to be clear on what they want and how much money they have

Every piece of great work starts with a well thought through brief.  A brief that is a collaboration between a client who understands what they need and an agency who is expert in delivering it.  Interrogating the brief should never be avoided nor should the conversation about how much money is available to make it happen. You wouldn’t shop in Burberry with a Primark budget, so as a client being clear how much money you have and adjusting the expectations based on this is essential. Clients need to remember agencies are businesses with employees who need to be paid, they do not have slush funds to provide large discounts nor should they work for free!  Equally agencies, once the budget has been agreed, need to manage it. Your client does not have a sofa they can easily search down the back of to find extra cash and going to the CFO cap in hand once the budget is set is not a good look!

Sometimes you have to let go of good ideas

As a client I realised that there was no shortage of good ideas, however there were many reasons why a good idea was not possible and most of these were out of my control. From customer service capacity to tech capabilities, if your infrastructure is not there you simply cannot do it. Great agencies will listen to their clients’ reasons as to why something is difficult and be prepared to help find ways around the barriers.   Agencies that simply dig their heels in will end up with a difficult client/agency relationship and the work they are passionate about sitting in the bottom drawer.

Be respectful of each others’ time

An integral part of a client’s role is lining everybody up internally to facilitate approval. So, an agency being clear on its time lines and delivering when they say they will is critical to success. Equally, as a client, it's crucial to respect your agency's process and the amount of time they require to produce their best work.  Pushing them to deliver in half the time will result in work that is half as good.  Plan in advance, ask your agency for ballpark timings and be the person who pushes back internally when unrealistic deadlines are being requested.  For agencies, it’s very simple, agree on the timelines you are confident in delivering within and do it when you say you will!

Have each others’ backs

As a client, you are judged on how your agency responds. Agencies, make sure you have your client’s back by taking the time to understand their challenges and realise that working with you is a small fraction of their role.  Meanwhile, clients need to appreciate and value how much energy and effort goes into producing the work.  It takes an army of people with great expertise who really care about getting it right. The majority of agency time is dedicated to pleasing you, so clients need to make sure to take as much care with feedback and how you treat them - if you have their back they will have yours.

Try the other side

I am a huge advocate for both agency and brand marketers spending a couple of years of their career on the other side to build not only more empathy, but a diversified skill set. Neither role is ‘easy’ and we should be better at treating each other as talented equals with stressful jobs.  My experience is enabling me to help shape and grow a new type of agency. One where building a strong relationship on both sides sits at the heart of our strategy.

Guest Author

Linn Frost

Managing Director, UK & Europe The Social Element


Linn Frost is an innovative brand builder and marketeer who has spent the last 20 years, both agency and brand-side, working with brands including Dove, BP, and M&S. She was previously the Marketing Director for Virgin Red and held roles at Ogilvy and Truant London. She is now the Managing Director of The Social Element, a Social Media agency that enables brands to build genuine human connections with their audience, driving brand growth and loyalty. Linn is proudly dyslexic. She is currently working with the charity Made By Dyslexia to ensure that all schools and employers are equipped to harness their students and employees’ superpowers.

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