The Agency/Client Relationship: Treat it Like a Marriage

What makes a good agency/client relationship?
If you want it to work, you both have to treat it like it’s an actual marriage.


By Sue Kruskopf CEO/Founder

In the many years I’ve been in this business, I’ve learned a lot about what works—and what doesn’t work—when it comes to agency/client relationships. In the end, it comes to this: to make the relationship work, you both have to treat it the way you would a real marriage. It sounds scary, but it’s true. The agency/client relationship is a living, breathing thing and should be treated as such to be successful for both parties.


  1. If it’s not the right match, it won’t work. You know the old saying that opposites attract? While it may be true with personal relationships, I haven’t seen it work in agency/client relationships. Before you get engaged, make sure you share similar values in your businesses. Oil and water don’t mix.
  1. Honesty is the best policy. Openness and honesty are essential ingredients to developing a strong, trusting relationship. No matter how difficult or painful it may be sometimes, agencies and clients must be able to candidly speak the truth to each other without fear of repercussions.
  1. Mutual respect is a pre-requisite. In client/agency relationships as in marriages, we may not always agree, but it’s imperative that each party respects the ideas and contributions of the other. At our agency we welcome and foster respectful debate, while never forgetting that the client always makes the final call.
  1. Be in it for the long-term. Although we all wish that results could change overnight, that very rarely happens in business. It takes patience. It takes trial and sometimes error. There will be ups and downs, but if we agree on what our end game is, we will be successful together. Which brings me to this…
  1. Know what you each want out of the relationship. What does success look like? Before committing to anything, clients and agencies need to sit down together upfront and define what success means for each party. Otherwise, when we look back and analyze the results, we risk being on different pages. And that’s a recipe for relationship disaster.
  1. Spend each other’s money as if it was your own. In personal relationships, money is often the source of the biggest conflicts. This is especially true in business. Managing expectations is key. Clients should be straightforward and realistic about the budgets they have, and agencies must be transparent and responsible when spending that money.
  1. Be a good listener. This is the cornerstone to any great relationship. We spend a lot of time getting to know our clients by letting them talk. We ask a lot of questions. Then we simply listen. Part of being good listeners means listening between the lines. Not just to our client’s words but to what they really mean. Encouraging and engaging in these conversations helps us be more in tune with our clients’ needs.
  1. Know your respective strengths and “let go.” We will never know as much about our clients’ business as they do. And clients may not recognize the potential of an idea when they first see it. The key is to understand each other’s strengths and to trust one another to do what we do best. Knowing in the end, we both want only the best results for each other.
  1. Don’t make assumptions. In personal relationships, we sometimes get too comfortable. We make assumptions and lose sight of what matters. In our business, what matters most is the target audience. After all, they’re the ones with the money. Agencies and clients should never make assumptions about the audience. We should always try to talk to them directly and learn what motivates them. We should stop wasting energy arm-wrestling over what we believe to be true without knowing the facts.
  1. There is a honeymoon period. But it will invariably end. That’s reality. We have to go through the ups and downs together and solve the problems that arise in a mutually satisfying way. That makes for a agency/client marriage that stands the test of time.



1 reply
  1. Frank Kelly
    Frank Kelly says:

    Great points, Sue. Much of this advice can and should be applied now matter what line of business one may be in. I particularly enjoyed the comparison to personal relationship struggles with money and setting realistic expectations. We’ve made expectations the cornerstone of our daily conversations hoping that it will really boost our client interactions.

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