By Ashley Carr, Founder of Neo PR

They say there’s always two sides to a story, but one of the perennial gripes of working with external suppliers is there always seems to be a honeymoon period followed by a relationship that just seems to lose its sparkle.

But who’s to blame? The agency? The client? Or is it all just down to expectation management?

We all know that the early part of a relationship of any sort is filled with wonder and excitement as both sides get to learn about each other — it’s all fresh, new and full of interest. So where can it all go wrong?

Let’s start with expectations.

The agency is on parade from day one; wanting to get to grips as quickly as possible with the client’s business and eager to understand how they make a difference in their industry. Keen to please. Working to impress. Your agency is firing on all cylinders with the big guns pointed in your direction. This is the time when the tone is set for the campaign and the message coalesces into that killer pitch to the media. If an agency fails to impress at this stage, then alarm bells should be ringing and you need to be running for the hills!

Now the bar has been set really high for the rest of the campaign and the agency has the effort turned up to level 10, despite the fact that you, as the client, are actually only paying for level 5. It’s a rock and a hard place. All agencies need to invest heavily in the early part of a relationship — not because they want to set unrealistic expectations — but because they need to put in the time up front to make sure the campaign sets off in the right direction and their client is supplying them with the tools to hit the target.

A good agency will be setting the expectation well at this point with clear insights into what happens day 1, week 1, and on all the key dates thereafter. If there is not a clear launch work plan outlined from the outset with very clear deadlines and touch points from the agency, then here is another reason to head for the hills. Too many agencies rely on woolly deliverables and opaque timescales. If you can’t see them outlined, ask. If you don’t like what you get, you know what to do!

Of course, there are those agencies out there who expect to be swapped out on an annual basis and act accordingly — knowing that over-servicing in the early days is naturally followed by a period of coasting and then, ultimately, of being moved along. Probably best to avoid those - but how? The easiest way is to ask to speak to some of their clients that have been around a while and see how much ‘loving’ they are still getting. Simple.

It takes two sides to make music

The client has a role to play too. Yes, you are paying out of your profits for the service. Yes, you are the client and should feel important (you are!). But like any relationship, it’s going to work best if both sides are working hard at it. Trouble is, the agency seems to be magical right now and is driving hard with all the actions and probably, unbeknownst to you, ‘training’ you to be a good source of rich information to fuel the campaign. It’s easy to fall into that trap that says the box is ticked — I trust the agency to be doing it and it all seems to be looking after itself.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If the agency is good — I mean, really good — then they know you’ll be impressed and they will anticipate that you may be prone to leaving them to get on with it. They will already have reached into your organisation and got their hooks into other key people that can help them get the information they need (without you needing to invest the same levels of activity) to keep the campaign alive and charging ahead.

The agency may seem like magicians, but they can’t do this without you. The old adage of ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’ applies here. They may not need the honeymoon level of loving, but it won’t work if you don’t go to the dance anymore.

Post honeymoon love

Keeping that sparkle alive takes hard work from both sides — and not just on the first few dates; an agency must truly appreciate you throughout the courtship and beyond. It’s essential that you are important to their payroll — so rightsizing your agency remains paramount. But more than that, it takes a blend of slightly OCD agency professionals, hell bent on making the client’s business a success all the time, mixed with a client willing to turn up for romantic meals and occasionally bringing flowers — going that extra mile to help energise the campaign and stay involved.

Don’t ask an agency what they are like to work with at the outset — if they aren’t fun and interesting then there really is no hope. Ask an agency (or more specifically their longer term clients) what it’s like to be in a relationship with them. If their clients report back that the sparks are still flying after a year, it’s probably a match made in heaven.