Only in a few rare cases do relationships breakup on a happy note. Most of the time, the dumpee didn’t know that the dumper was unhappy, there’s crying and snot for some or for others, a strident resolve and a few tequilas. No matter your style there is one classic line at the end of the relationship that really gets under the skin: ‘It’s not you, it’s me!’

I’ll just let that hang there, ‘it’s not you, it’s me!’…we can debate what that meant when you used it on ‘Karen’ (name changed to protect the innocent) in 2002 but dig a little deeper and we can take comfort in the fact that it’s true, it was indeed you, but unfortunately, it was her too.

What does all of this have to do with a business blog? A lot actually. People are people and relationships are relationships; the reasons that they succeed or fail at home are often the same as in the workplace. And with the average human spending, around 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime isn’t it about time we focused more attention on our relationships and the people around us, not just outcomes and process? I’d suggest the success of our organisations; our personal success and our sense of wellbeing depend on it.

Looking at this from my own working life, it’s interesting to consider the relationships that agencies have with their clients and vice versa, what is it that makes some relationships incredibly successful and others break down before the first invoice is approved? For the answer, lets return to the divorce courts for some real-life lessons in what not to do.

Shared approach and vision

“Everything changed when we got married!” – She drives you bonkers because you’re ‘a neat freak’ and she’s ‘chaotic’. Your idea of a weekend getaway is a cottage in Wales; his is a foam party in Ibiza. How did you not notice before? Chances are things were always like this; the person hasn’t changed but your expectations and tolerance did.

In a client/agency relationship, fit is crucial and that works both ways. You have to love your agency for who they are and vice versa. Perhaps a pitch isn’t the best way to start this off?

At pitch, you’ll find us sporting a metaphorical pair of Spanx, a Wonder Bra and a full face of make-up – not the true us. Come and see us when we’ve got deadlines, when there’s 35 projects to fit into a studio that has capacity for the maximum of 24; that’s when you’ll know if we work or not.

Equally, we’ll be totally blown away by your CEO talking through a vision of the future; but invite us to a sales meeting when things are going backwards, so we really get to see your pressures and motivations.

Poor communication

A poll of 100 mental health professionals found that communication problems were the next most common problem that leads to divorce. No doubt that correlates perfectly with the agency and client relationship.

‘Communication’ can encompass so many things but there’s a few corner stones that, to me, are essential. Firstly, delivering on promises. And that, of course, is a two-way street. We’ll always hit the deadline, you’ll always provide feedback on time and if we can’t? We tell each other in plenty of time…it sounds simple, but these are the little things that when neglected, cause friction and long-term damage.

The next is feedback, this is something us agency folk find very difficult, we’ll happily take feedback from a client, you’re paying the bills, so of course we’re going to do what you ask, however this will ultimately lead us down the wrong path.

One of the primary reasons an agency partner is chosen is for their knowledge and expertise; when that’s our job why aren’t we all being more honest with our feedback to each other? Perhaps we didn’t set off on the right foot in the first place and now we’re on different pages altogether. Or we’re not explaining why something is important to the outcome or we’re not taking the time to explain why. Or maybe, you hadn’t told us you can only really spend £2.60 on this project – oh dear! And it all started so well or did it (see above)?!

Of course, feedback on projects or work is important but even more essential is two-way feedback on the relationship. If you don’t feel like your agency loves you as much as they used to, tell them and ask them why? In turn they should be brave enough to tell you their side, honestly, ideally face-to-face, like actual humans. In truth, we should be encouraging this dialogue both ways, regularly, before any problems begin and more importantly, setting time aside in those 90,000 hours to celebrate together, to realise how far we’ve come together and how great we are as a team. Yay us!

Ultimately the agency/client relationship, like a perfect marriage, starts with people sharing amazing chemistry and excitement, but changes and grows into something deeper and more fulfilling. With honesty, shared goals and great communication not only do the outcomes get better but so does the journey. And should push regretfully come to shove, wouldn’t it be great to think that whether the dumped or dumpee, both journeys were enriched a little for the shared experience? Then again… maybe it’s just me!

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