Decade of devotion: keeping the spark alive between agency and brand

As Truant and Royal Caribbean enter their tenth year of working together, Truant founder Chris Jefford explores what it takes to keep the spark alive

Chris Jefford

CEO & Co-Founder Truant


Like all great love affairs, I remember the place it all happened.  It was a sunny day in Shoreditch, and I had just stepped outside of a coffee shop, Americano in hand.

My phone buzzed.

A call, out of the blue, to say they’d seen us around and they liked what they saw.

No promises, but there was a chance that we could get together, possibly start something, say ‘to hell with it’ and take a leap into the unknown.

My mind fizzed with excitement, could this be it, could they be ‘the one’, I tried not to get ahead of myself.

But what could a global, iconic superstar see in a fresh-faced, independently spirited Londoner, a relative nobody in a sea of other potential partners?  Sure, we had the confidence of youth, a bit of a reputation and a head full of crazy dreams, but they had options, they were a big deal.  Could we ever be enough?

So, we met, we courted, we took those tentative first steps together. We were at our flattering best, showed our best selves, and painted a picture of a great future together, side by side, taking on the world.

We got it on, and the whirlwind began.

Many said it would never work.

That they would tire of us, walk away when the next flattering suiter should appear, that we wouldn’t be able to keep the spark alive.

And whilst long-term relationships are never easy, as we enter our tenth year of being Royal Caribbean International’s agency of record, we’ve proved them all wrong.

We’ve been through an era-defining pandemic together, we’ve supported each other as we’ve grown - they were incredibly supportive of our move into the music space for example and our rebrand to Truant, moves that have helped define the current relationship we have, and we’ve developed a more straight-talking, honest communication style with one another which familiarity and history affords us both.

So, what have we learned? What’s the secret behind a long-lasting love affair such as ours? 

Here are our 5 big learnings:

Trust isn’t built overnight, you have to earn it. Yes, in the early days you forgive each other more readily, but over the long-term it’s the credit you build by continually being there for each other that really counts. By positioning our agency as ‘their rock’, we’ve been able to deliver across ship launches, trade programmes, global multi-language coms, live events and Eurovision sponsorships, all safe in the knowledge that we’ll get it right.

Understand that you’ll both change, and support that. The relationship you start is rarely the relationship you end up with, and whilst change is hard, supporting each other through it is worth it.  As their needs - and those of their travel customers - have changed, we’ve reacted to it, building a bespoke internal team to work side-by-side at Royal HQ. There can be an urge to fight the change, but it only breeds resentment, the death knell for any partnership.

Sweat the big stuff, it’s what holds it all together. Good, clear, regular communication is the obvious one, as is a continual desire to listen deeply to one another’s needs and perspectives.  Always let them know you understand them, and that you’ll do whatever it takes to make it work.

Therapy is good, any lasting relationship has its ups and downs. It’s important to take those moments to get away from the day-to-day and get some fresh perspective and reset every now and again.

Never lose the spark, perhaps the hardest of all, the magic must never die. Whatever’s going on in the world, whatever you’ve been through or are going through, find ways of reconnecting with what you found magical about each other in the first place.  Take each other to new, unexpected places, keep each other on your toes, and be excited about the world together.

In our industry, new business is often feted as a signal of an agency's success or otherwise.  The truth is that far more should be made of an agency's ability to hold onto and nurture a long-term relationship with clients than its ability to burn brightly for a short while.

Guest Author

Chris Jefford

CEO & Co-Founder Truant


Chris is CEO and Co-Founder of Truant, one of the most unique, independent award-winning creative agencies in the UK. He has worked at the intersection of media, creativity and technology for 20 years, working both client and agency-side before launching Truant in 2012, a new era agency specialising in getting clients cultural attention through advertising and music. Current clients include PizzaExpress, PepsiCo, and Royal Caribbean International.

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