Fact: Additional points of contact between the agency and the client can increase operational efficiencies and add to the stability of the relationship.
To illustrate: A few years ago, one of my mentors in this industry told me that few agencies ever get more than a dozen significant clients under one roof. This man led the growth of an agency from less than $250,000 to more than $400 million. So, I always listened carefully when he spoke.
He said that there are only so many evenings in a month to spend at dinners and events with the clients' top management. It was those relationships that kept the client/agency relationship on track. And that when the agency roster got too large, some clients didn't get the attention from top management they required and would leave.
His agency, built in a pyramid-type, top-down, command-and-control model – like the others in the industry – had another problem. The account executives and supervisors were, in many instances, the only people who had client contact. So the client/agency relationship had very few contact points and much of the responsibility for relationship building was left to agency top management and account management. Since account management spent considerable time carrying routine tidbits of information back and forth between agency specialists and the client, strategic planning and production facilitation – often the most important aspects of their job – took a back seat to administration.
Contrast this with a client-based team:
- The client is resident on the team and, therefore, welcomed and encouraged to speak to any team member.
- Multiple relationships are built.
- Team members, who in the old world didn't really work directly with the client, are now closer to the customer – and learn more by getting input directly from the horse's mouth.
- All information is not filtered through account management.
- Because the communication task is shared among team members, account managers and leaders spend more time on what the client actually wants from the agency.
On a related subject, it's this economy of time that allows an IMC team leader to facilitate multiple services – as opposed to facilitating only one discipline like advertising or PR or promotions, if they were at a single-discipline agency.
Take, for example, a client who wants to know the price of an insertion in a particular magazine. Contrast these two scenarios:
1. Example of a traditional pyramid-type structure, where the account executive is the client/agency liaison on almost all communications:
- Client calls the AE and asks for information.
- AE records the request and goes to the media department.
- AE gives the media specialist the request.
- Media specialist looks up the answer (while the AE waits).
- AE takes the information back to their desk, calls the client and delivers the information.
- If the answer sparks another question from the client, well – here we go again.
2. Example of self-directed teams where the client is on the team:
- Client calls the media specialist and asks for the information.
- Media specialist delivers the answer.
- If the client wants more information, they're already speaking to the specialist.
- Media specialist alerts account management of the communication.
(This last step is necessary when any team member works directly with a client, because we've agreed that account management needs to be current on all significant account activities.)
In the second scenario:
- AE's time is spent more efficiently.
- Media person benefits from the client contact.
- Client gets quicker and often more thorough service.
- Client sees how knowledgeable their media specialist is.
- Relationships are built with more team members.
This is just one example of where a routine task, handled by a client-based team, works to build knowledge and relationships.
Think about it: Workers (team members) talking directly to the market (the client) without going through management. There's something very refreshing – very honest about that, isn't there?
It does give rise to the need to “train” clients who are used to going through one person that there may be a better way to do it.
(Sidebar: This is something that will increasingly happen in large business-to-consumer buying groups with the rise of Internet usage.)
The benefits of this model are:
- It builds deeper understanding among those actually providing and receiving the service throughout the organizations.
- It's genuine, because the responsibility for maintaining the relationship is shifted more to those actually working together on a daily basis.
- It allows more clients to be added to the roster without overburdening agency top management's workload.
- Because of the multiple relationships, the agency is less likely to lose an account if a key team member leaves the agency. This reduces turnover and improves client service.