Couple's Therapy: How to Keep the Spark Alive in a Client-Agency Relationship

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The Shell and MediaCom partnership has lasted over two decades.

For an Adweek panel with the 4A’s, Patty Lanning, VP and General Manager North America Marketing, Shell and Larry Swyer, Managing Partner, MediaCom share the 3 fundamentals to keeping the spark in the client-agency partnership. As the industry and the cultural climate is continually changing, brands must lean on their agencies to help remind them of their north star and strive for the best business results possible. See below recap for a best-in-class example of how Shell and MediaCom manage to keep the spark alive!

Open, honest communication between agencies and marketers is critical.

It is undeniable that this is a marriage in some shape or form. The foundation has to be trust and open dialogue. The climate must support open discussion, where teams can be unafraid and unincumbered to talk about the good and the bad. Larry states, "we are in the communications business, and issues stem from lack of communication or incomplete communication." Being a true partner has made the relationship stand as long as it has – which is a true feat given the frequency of pitches in the space.

Structure the partnership to continually evolve to meet future business needs in a dynamic environment.

Shell and MediaCom have approached building a system to facilitate communication uniquely. They established a team called the Integrated Agency Team (IAT). This team is the connecting fiber between the two entities. This ensures that MediaCom has a seat at the table early in the planning process to drive strategy for the business. The teams have a cadence of meeting weekly.

Also, Shell and MediaCom have a top-to-top regroup twice a year. The idea is that everyone gets in the room (or virtual room) and workshops. This is a safe space to discuss the good, bad and create an actionable plan to address any challenges. As Larry explained, "the one requirement is to check egos at the door and bring forth honest thoughts and good conversation." Patty emphasized, "This is an important process to ensure that they are getting the most desired ROI."

Like everyone, Shell and MediaCom teams were put to the test at the beginning of the outbreak. Not only did they need to ensure media was pivoting in the right way but that their teams were doing okay. Shell had several robust plans that need to be paused, pivoted, and creative that needed to be changed – all very quickly. Patty stated, "MediaCom stepped up to the plate and supported us really well in the process. This required a lot of teamwork to pivot so many different ways."

Both teams agreed that this was a challenging time for everyone, but they did notice more connectivity between the two groups during it. There used to be a fair amount of travel between NY and TX, but this way, the teams could see each other more often, all be it virtually. But as Patty stated it, we did not want "death by 1,000, 30-minute meetings," so they instituted no meetings on Wednesdays and blocked out time for lunch and at the end of the day. Both teams found this to help burnout and fatigue immensely.

It is all our jobs to partner with one another to learn, grow, and evolve.

"A marketers agency relationship is built over time and is not one that should be left hastily." Says Lanning. "There is an immense amount of knowledge to be shared back and forth."

The main takeaway is that marketers should embrace agencies as partners rather than vendors to foster the best relationship and long-lasting culture.

Event Reporting By Heidi Capnerhurst, MediaCom U.S.

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