I Trust, You Trust, We Trust
The basis for every healthy relationship is trust. But somehow we have managed to create many business relationships, some of them very long lasting, that are mostly lacking trust. Your relationship with your bank for example, is utilitarian but not rooted in trust. Agency client relationships are not that different in general.
But there are exceptions to the rule and it is from those that the best and most effective work emerges year after year after year.
It’s a simple formula really, but surprisingly difficult to cement. In my opinion it starts with a clear understanding of the goals by discussing, sharing and committing to them, the assumption that it’s in both party’s best interest to achieve those goals, respect for each other’s opinions (therefore a lot of listening) and a shared responsibility in success and in mistakes. These relationships are so productive that they tend to be very long lasting, which is an added benefit for both parties.
One of the most rewarding client-agency relationship I’ve ever been involved in, and probably one of the most successful is the one our agency in Colombia had with the ministry of defence during the 10 years we worked together. The goal was to help end the war in our country by demobilising guerrillas using communications.
There was a really clear understanding of the goals. We all were working to that end. The military, the government, the people, we all wanted to end the war one way or another, either through negotiation of a peace treaty of simply by defeating the guerrilla and forcing them to surrender. There was no ambiguity in terms of the final goal, we all understood it and we all saw the benefits. It was good for everyone. Within that framework our job was clearly defined. The more guerrillas we demobilise, the closer we are to achieving peace.
This clear understanding of the goals cemented a fundamental trust that all parties were doing their best to help. The soldiers out in the battlefields were willing to give up their lives, the generals were joining their men in battle, the Government was investing a lot of money to help the demobilised guerrillas transition smoothly and safely back into society and we needed to put our best efforts and make the best use of the tools we as communications and advertising experts had at hand.
Our skills were so different that when we sat around a table with the client, the generals and the minister or vice minister of defence we all had to listen, learn and above all trust. This is where the key to the success of this relationship was built. In the trust around that table. Very sensitive information and intelligence was shared with us, which forced both sides to keep the team small, and as a result we became very close.
The simple fact that we were given access to this sort of information gave us the feeling we were important to the client and I think helped the client realise what we could bring to the table was important too, important enough to justify the intelligence that was shared.
It was a tight team, and success was the team’s. Nothing we ever did we did alone. We did not come up with magical solutions, we had ideas, many, some spectacularly successful and some not so much. But we all accepted that every effort advanced our cause, sometimes by demobilising hundreds of guerrillas over a short period of time, and sometimes by just showing us what we should not try again. We knew we were getting better all the time, all of us, and we saw the benefits of the learning curve in practice.
Over time, no one knew more than we did and when new players came in (new generals, new government officials and even new governments) we were seen as the experts. We had both built a long-lasting relationship based on trust.
Our efforts helped demobilise over 18,000 guerrillas over a 10 year period, the war in Colombia ended in 2017.
Jose Miguel Sokoloff is President of MullenLowe Group Creative Council and Chief Creative Officer, MullenLowe Group UK