IN MY VIEW: The secret of a long and successful marriage

I regularly read in the press about how one individual or another has left their agency to set up on their own. Then, in the blink of an eye, it is being reported that this new agency has landed a significant client win. The truth behind this, as we all know, is that the individual took the client business with them when they left.

How could this happen? Surely if an agency has a long-established business with the client, for richer or poorer, how can a start-up, with no pedigree be so successful in tempting business away? The answer is relationships.

If marriages are built on trust and loyalty then we need to be sure that the client is wed to the right entity. If a client buys the individual and not the agency, then they are willing to jilt the agency and run off with the new business when the opportunity presents itself.

Having undergone such a separation recently, I appreciate how messy and complicated this can be. The question is whether you mediate, walk away or go legal and risk any chance of reconciliation with the client.

What's the answer? Being an agency means that we make money from our people. When you analyse what affects clients' buying decisions in this industry, yes it's about price, creativity and relevant experience, but largely it's about relationships.

But with whom? Take the example of Saatchi & Saatchi. Clients employ this agency in the first place because of its reputation. The continuity of contact on a day-to-day basis makes the relationship work but it endures because of the agency's distinctive offering. In short, clients are buying the brand personality of the agency, not the individual personalities of the staff.

My advice is to accept that client relationships are more like marriages than we might care to admit. They need to be built on trust, you need to be open, honest and never take anything for granted. But above all, they need working at - introduce them to your whole family and get them to buy into the agency relationship not just with individuals, but at a much deeper level. This is where the real value lies for clients and how we'll be able to hold on to these relationships, forsaking all others till death us do part.

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