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Why Long-Term Client-Agency Relationships Make Good Commercial Sense When it comes to your business relationships, you can probably count on a couple of fingers just how many truly great and satisfying relationships your firm has garnered over the years. One great relationship all power brands have in common is the client-agency relationship.

By Liam Farrell

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Few things go as well together as fish and chips, mint and lemon, or brunch and Fridays, but when it comes to your business relationships, you can probably count on a couple of fingers just how many truly great and satisfying relationships your firm has garnered over the years. One great relationship all power brands have in common is the client-agency relationship. But in the Middle East, where relationships are everything in business, client-agency relationships here seem to be overlooked or plainly undervalued.

It seems to be fact totem of the region's creative industry that long lasting client-agency relationships are as rare as legible government- sponsored safety campaigns. All too often, creative works are commissioned in a similar way to nuts and bolts- the lowest cost is the best; if you're considering only the immediate cost of creativity, those guys in accounts are going to have a supremely detrimental affect on your brand's long-term value.

What brands in the Middle East fail to appreciate is the essential nature of client-agency relationships in creating business advantage: the industry's best work is the result of long lasting creative relationships. For example, Honda's brand image has been forged largely thanks to the insightful and often large-scale creative muscle of Wieden+Kennedy. For decades, some of Apple's most iconic advertising resulted from its founder's partnership with TBWA\Chiat\Day. The firm was so instrumental in crafting Apple's image that Steve Jobs sacked the incumbent agency and reappointed TBWA\Chiat\ Day when he was brought back to lead the firm in 1997.

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What power brands like Apple and Honda understand is the power of harnessing creativity and the passion of creative people in the pursuit of their business objectives. To remain relevant, brands have to evolve consistently and this evolution takes deep understanding of a brand's DNA and soul. In the Middle East, the sense of permanence is a relatively new thing and things change like sandiness in a breeze, more often to the detriment of a brand's consistency. Considered evolution becomes chaotic revolution and the equity and trust a brand has struggled to build is lost.

All brands have to evolve to remain relevant to a changing society and its evolving expectations. Evolving a brand has to be done in tune with its strategy. This work takes deep insights and careful consideration, which isn't going to happen when the agency is changed every time the pitch calendar chimes. Changing annually just because "it's time" results in ego-driven work winning out over consistent evolution.

While agencies might not like to admit it, when new creative teams win an account, they want to put their stamp on the brand, to change it, to take it in a new direction. This is often contrary to the interests of well-established brands. That is not to say that many brands in the Middle East don't need a radical overhaul, but that all too often, brands with well-established aesthetics change their tone of voice all too quickly, to the detriment of their established equity and trust.

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Building a trusted relationship with an agency ensures they understand your brand and are invested in your success. The creative team begins to appreciate what makes your brand tick, its likes and dislikes, things it should and shouldn't do. This kind of learning takes time, and when you change an agency, you lose this learning and have to restart educating a new team. Building on top of this learning, however, is where the great creative work happens. Insights about the essential nature of your brand and how these can best be coupled with insights about your consumers is the fertile ground for growing truly engaging communication and innovations.

When you feel like a team understands both your brand and your consumer, you begin to trust them when they push you to create the communication that's unique and can cut through the noise. Honda's "Love/ Hate" campaign is the product of a trusting relationship, as is TBWA\ Chiat\Day's "Think Different." The latter challenged formal linguistic relevance in a way that most clients would not support; the former used negativity as a thematic device, which is typically a total brand no-no. These award-winning works can only come when a brand trusts its agency to know its brand and its consumers implicitly. Some might say this work is risky, but Honda and Apple had such trust in their agencies that they were able to play closer to the edge than many mainstream brands were thought capable of, and the results were impactful.

The future of your brand should be entrusted to people who care about it. Guns-for-hire, who are only in the fight for a single round, are not the caring champions that will ensure a brighter future. It's like expecting the bit of fluff you picked up at the bar the other night to stick by you when your credit card is maxed out- unlikely. Long relationships benefit both parties tremendously as you can both learn what each other need to grow. In all relationships, there are going to be good times and bad, but if you work the issues out, you will find that the relationship, like a good marriage, can be deeply rewarding, in the way a series of dates can never be.

Related: Want More Business? Try Building Solid Personal Relationships

Liam Farrell

Founding Partner and Executive Creative Director, Unisono

Liam Farrell is Unisono’s Founding Partner and Executive Creative Director. The branding firm Liam started back in 2006 is the only branding practice in the entire Middle East to be inaugurated into the REBRAND Hall of Fame. Liam is probably the region’s most highly awarded branding designer with a slew of international branding awards from notable creative shows such as REBRAND, Transform, Design & Design and the German Design Council. As well as his awards, Liam’s work regularly features in online branding blogs, design books and archives. Liam is also currently the strategic communications sponsor for EO Bahrain.

Liam graduated with a first class honors degree in design practice from Salford University in Manchester, UK. After a spell in the music industry, Liam entered the design world working for design and online agencies such as Attik in Huddersfield and Amaze in Liverpool and London before starting his own agency Tap. In 2003, Liam moved to Bahrain to take up the Design Director seat at Saatchi and Saatchi, before starting Unisono in 2006.

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