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Old accounts in new agencies!

By N.Chandramouli,

The author is the CEO of Blue Lotus Communications Consultancy, a knowledge based public relations agency headquartered in Mumbai. He can be reached at mouli@bluelotuspr.com.

You know the maxim of bottles & wines right? I have a theory that says that old wine in any bottle has to taste better. If the taste is not to your liking, chances are that its time to change your drink.

Public Relations agencies take pride in old and steady relationships. We do too! But a spate of recent pitches that we were invited to shock-struck my eyes open. Thrilled as we were to attend these pitches, we were gloating in the fact that Blue Lotus was making dents into decade old relationships. We were also excited to explore how help change the way PR can be used for these 'rock-steady' organizations. Just a few weeks ago, we've replaced an agency which had a 13 year old relationship, and another where we were invited for another pitch where a relationship had soured over the last 10 years!!

During one of our pitches (in the penultimate round) I was while casually conversing with the client on their rationale for change of agency after so many years and I got enlightenment. A moment of truth, a flash before my eyes, and I realized why we all need to change our attitude towards our older clients. The knowledge that existing relationships are far more important than the new ones is an ageold wisdom, but the how to ensure that such a relationship can be maintained, is not. This important gyan I received is summarized in the points below:

  1. Periodic reorientation: As the agency-client relationship matures, it is important that both the parties to reorient themselves periodically (preferably annually) to the new realities in the relationship. The onus and the need both rest more on the agency, than with the client. Growth, new focus areas, issues and challenges in the relationship must be discussed threadbare. New needs of the client, new business targets and communications objectives must be set formally before moving forward.

  2. Don't miss the nuts and bolts: While the agency may have aligned the strategy to the objectives of the client, it is very important that the agency does not forget about the 'nuts & bolts' of the implementation. Clients usually only go through the pain of a break-ups when the going with the existing agency becomes really difficult. So the first role of the new agency will be to take care of the run-of-the-mill stuff well.

  3. Care for the client: Once the client-agency relationship begins to mature, knowledge & familiarity of the client may lead to some amount of contempt. This contempt is in often mutual and can leading to souring of the relationship. This basic hygiene factor, must be reinforced regularly by ensuring that the client servicing team knows the value of the client in their portfolio.

  4. Internal reviews: Ensure that the client account not only goes through client reviews, but also goes through critical internal reviews. There has to be a compelling reason why a team would still working on the account after a few years of complacent attitude. Of course, to ensure internal harmony, these reviews must be rigourous and completely without bias.

  5. Regular client feedback: No rocket science this! But, the interpretation of the client's comments is of extreme import. Someone senior enough must ensure that the client feedback is studied and acted upon. Accolades or brickbats, bouquets or criticisms - swift action on the reaction will be of immense value to the client and to the relationship.

The above points are not only useful in ensuring that a 'relationship-ennui' does not set in into longstanding partnership, but they are also useful in finding the ways in how to create strong, lasting and eternal bonds with clients.

In my nirvana-like realization state I know one thing for sure, clients who have had a bad flavour (and at times over years) are desperate for a good experience and just a little focus and some amount of care can help create a lifelong relationship.

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