Four Tips to A Better Client-Agency Relationship

By: Guest | May 24, 2011 | 


Andrew Worob is manager of digital communications at Ruder Finn, where he counsels clients of all sizes on how to develop and execute smart, successful programs that truly integrate traditional media with online media efforts.

The client-agency relationship should be a marriage, not a war.  Are you a client that is frustrated at how your agency is handling your social media and PR needs? Or, are you are the account lead at an agency and you’re ready to pull your hair out because your client never seems to take your counsel?

You’ve slammed your phone down after a weekly status call. You’ve complained to your superiors that you can’t work with these people anymore. You might have even preferred that the relationship just terminate as opposed to resolving the issues.

Bitching and complaining are not going to solve any issues.

Following are four tips and reminders on how clients and agency teams can work towards a more productive and civil relationship.

  1. Get the first date out of the way. Nobody likes the first date. It’s like a painful interview. However, it is a necessary evil. Ask the tough questions. Understand and manage expectations. Right from the start, make sure both sides understand exactly what the expectations are in order to avoid issues down the road. 
  2. There’s no crying in PR and social media. Establish, from day one, that all points of view are always accepted, even if it means feelings will be hurt. If someone has something to say about a campaign or PR/social media initiative, let them say it as long as it is in a professional and respectful manner, and they can back up their argument.
  3. Set up play dates. Instead of the usual, “Let’s get together at the beginning of the year and the end of the year” ritual, make an effort to have more frequent meetings … yes, in person! This will help improve the relationships of all parties, and may even provide deeper insight into what is going on at both organizations.
  4. Practice Media 101. Sick of hearing from the email bully? Pick up the phone and speak directly to one another. Just like reaching out to a reporter, don’t rely on just one way of communicating. Instead, figure out the best way to get in touch with one another and solve the issue at hand.

Now, I’m not saying that I have the answers to everything or that these tactics are absolutely going to help solve anything, but any smart professional in this industry knows how quickly a small issue can blow up into a huge mess if a problem goes unaddressed.

The next time you are upset and on the verge of starting World War III with your client or agency, take a deep breath and make sure you are not adding another problem to the situation. Instead, act in a professional way and bring a solution to the table.

Do you have any lessons learned you’d like to share? Disasters averted? Relationships repaired?

Andrew Worob is manager of digital communications at Ruder Finn, where he counsels clients of all sizes on how to develop and execute smart, successful programs that truly integrate traditional media with online media efforts. He is also the publisher of the blog PR at Sunrise, which has been ranked among industry leaders, according to Cision and eReleases.




This is a very nice approach to not only better the relationship but also to sustain it over a period of time. I would add that as well as in your analogy of a marriage, your partner in a relationship always appreciates the random acts of kindness like flowers or a spa appointment, but rather than gifts, instead exchange with a client "mind treasures" such as an article online that may be of interest, a blog post that relates to the issue you both are trying to resolve or a book suggestion. In moderation it can help ease unhealthy tension and help refocus if the problem is being stuck in the weeds.


Manage expectations. It's not a trick to repeat what's been said back to someone, not if you restate what you HEARD vs. what they SAID to clarify. Goes a long way. For the play dates, maybe some phone calls or Skype chats may help. If I'd add it'd be to practice good business; you're their PR and communications advisor, not the summer camp counselor or BFF. You're gonna say things they don't want to hear and vice versa (#2) that's just part of the professional relationship, FWIW.

Nikki Little
Nikki Little

Good suggestions, Andrew!

We all want to make our clients happy, but I think as counselors, it's just as important to say no when necessary as it is to say yes. Good clients appreciate it when their PR counselors say "I know you want this, but here's why we suggest you think/do things differently."

I'm pretty sure Gini wrote a post at some point about saying no to clients! I think it improves the client/agency relationship when you actually provide honest and solid counsel versus obeying every request...especially if it makes zero sense for the client and they have NO idea why they want what they say they need.


Andrew, I love point #2. Any marketing communications pro who can't abide criticism isn't really a pro. And any client who can't be respectful... well, believe it or not, there are lots of clients out there.


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