By Tom Robertshaw, Managing Director of LRD-The Big Idea


The Greek philosopher Aristotle (rather than the Brazilian footballer) famously said ‘Το σύνολο είναι μεγαλύτερο από το άθροισμα των μερών του’ which loosely translated means ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’  

He was explaining ‘synergy’ or the concept of playing together as a team, something that some people and certain organisations still find difficult to do. 

But, history shows that working in partnership with clearly defined goals, roles and expectations can be extremely effective and all parties can reap the rewards.

But how do you develop the right kind of structure in business to facilitate this relationship when one partner pays the money and the other one does the work? Can a client / agency partnership achieve true synergy?

Well, client / agency relationships are symbiotic as both parties need each other. Let’s role play – you client, me agency. I need you because I have to generate an income, the nature of your business is stimulating and interesting to work on, your name looks sexy on my client roster and your inclusion may attract further business from other potential clients.

You need me to be an affordable extension of your team providing skills that you may not have in house, to add value via insight and opinion and to be a partner in your business sharing your enthusiasm for your brand, understanding how your business ticks and helping you reach your goals.

If each party understands what the other wants it makes for a healthy, trusting and ultimately a more productive relationship. It should be a partnership and both the agency and the client should feel that ‘we are in it together’. That means the agency should have a desire to learn more about the clients business and demonstrate enthusiasm for their brand but also a real empathy for the pressures they are facing. In most cases, dealing with an agency will be just a small part of their working day so lets make it a productive and enjoyable process.

If this partnership is to be strong, stable and durable what other building blocks do you need? Financial transparency is key and clients should understand that the partnership is a financial relationship and the agency needs to make a sensible profit. Our agency is in the creative communications business but first and foremost we are in business. No agency wants a client that resents paying bills so being transparent on how an agency makes its money is essential.

For the sake of clarity you need a formal document that outlines the scope of work expected from the agency for the financial outlay of the client. You also need a framework that states who is responsible for what as structure and accountability will be key. There should be provision for an annual ‘how are we doing?’ review when both parties can assess the performance of the other and look at ways to improve the structure and overall performance.

It is all very well putting checks and balances in place but ultimately an agency will be judged by the client on the quality of the work it produces. It’s the agency’s role to put its heart and soul into every project and to bring the necessary resources and expertise to bear to get the right result. It should also be a neutral and unbiased sounding board to stress-test new initiatives, and a valued extension of the client’s team providing ideas, opinion.

Finally, it is also worth pointing out that we are all human and although we always aim to deliver we can fall down at times. An honest and open relationship is a good foundation to ask ‘is everything OK? or ‘We’re not happy but let’s talk through this’. 

Agencies operate in a hugely competitive and stressful environment so there will be times when resources and people are stretched so it is great when a client can empathise with what we are going through. It encourages the agency to work that much harder for them and produce a better outcome. 

Follow these practical tips and a truly synergistic relationship is possible and achievable.


Thanks Aristotle.