Commentary

The Impact Of Leadership Vs. Management On The Client/Agency Relationship

The client/agency relationship continues to feel the strain from an evolving media ecosystem and a demanding business climate.

Last month I moderated a session at ad:tech titled “The Happy Brand/Agency Marriage.” It was a great discussion of issues that fueled either healthy or dysfunctional relationships. The topics that strained many relationships were consistently tied back to a lack of leadership on either side. I wanted to shed a little more light on this vital point and address the broader topic of leadership vs. management in the context of the client/agency relationship.

Leadership has become such a complex topic, both academically and in practice. It’s a theme that comes up regularly in my work with CMOs, and is always on my mind. If you haven’t read my Online Spin article on “Modern Day Marketing Leadership,” I recommend taking a few minutes to do so.

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Leadership vs Management: In Practice

In most organizations, there are those who assume leadership roles and others who assume management roles. It’s generally accepted that finding individuals with exceptional skills in both leadership and management is a rarity.

Leadership: Provides the vision, inspiration, and guidance that allow managers, and their teams, to accomplish the tasks that achieve the goals of the organization.

Management: Ensures that the human, technological and financial resources are being applied optimally to achieve effective workflow and output. Essentially -- executing the vision, managing deadlines and getting things done.

However, navigating the fast-paced and complex world of digital marketing requires individuals in senior management and leadership roles, to a degree, to possess hybrid qualities.

Which Skew Are You?

In performing organizational assessments, one of the challenges that we consistently encounter is that companies tend to skew towards one end of the spectrum or another. The lack of one of these core traits will inevitably lead to some degree of breakdown of the client/agency relationship.

Leadership-skewed organizations have great vision but bad execution, including poor communication, limited briefs and processes and a lack of tactical planning required to make the rubber meet the road, so to speak. Leadership-skewed organizations also tend to be under-resourced from this disconnect. It’s like drawing a multi-directional map without realizing the starting point of the journey.

Management-skewed organizations often fail to see the bigger picture and can be penny wise and pound foolish in defending the status quo. This includes a lack of strategic planning, with principals continuing processes and programs because “that’s how things are done around here.” (See “The Most Dangerous Phrase in Marketing”). It’s like navigating with a map that’s missing some new and improved roads.

Up to the Challenge?

Today’s managers and leaders must be passionate about what they do. Digital marketing presents numerous operational challenges for marketers and agencies alike. If either side doesn’t possess or foster in others all of the following traits, which are a mix of management and leadership qualities, expect the relationship to eventually become strained or even fall apart.

  • Willingness to take complete accountability
  • Treating partners and staff with respect
  • Challenging the status quo and inspiring innovation
  • Improving culture
  • Maximizing the impact of technology on output
  • Proactively anticipating and solving problems
  • Being responsive to consumers and the market
  • Being responsive to employees
  • Developing systems, processes, and efficiencies in workflow
  • Managing multiple projects simultaneously
  • Doing more with less when necessary
  • Being available (proverbially) 24/7 in today’s connected world

Of course, most leaders, managers and companies will say that they have all of these characteristics.

It’s funny how similar client/agency relationships are to marriages. Everyone’s out to impress during the dating phase, providing the extra attention and all the little things that make you fall in love. Some marriages see that love and respect last a lifetime. However, when the attention and care wane over time, marriages get strained. Some bad marriages last for years, while others blow up in nasty divorces.  Unfortunately for agencies, there aren’t many client/agency marriage therapists out there. When was the last time you took a deep look at the health of your client/agency relationship?

How has the leadership vs management issue affected your client/agency relationships? Chime in here on the comments or hit me on Twitter @jasonheller.

3 comments about "The Impact Of Leadership Vs. Management On The Client/Agency Relationship".
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  1. Chuan jer Lim from Yahoo! Southeast Asia Pte Ltd, November 29, 2011 at 8:14 p.m.

    Possessing list of characteristics are ideal and I'm certain most managers aspire to do all these, unfortunately it's the daily grind that wears them down.

    Only few can tear through this grind.

  2. Jason Heller from AGILITi, November 30, 2011 at 9:36 a.m.

    To a degree what you point out is a lack of leadership, part of which is properly managing up. If the grind is too much for someone to effectively fulfill their role, they need to make the case for additional resources. If financially this case cannot be made, a true leader would owe it to themselves to seek employment elsewhere.

    That said -- There are always some trade offs that we must live with. We must each decide the degree of which these trade offs are acceptable in our own personal careers.

  3. Michael Baer from Ipsos Connect USA, December 1, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.

    Agency-Client relationships ARE a lot like marriages. And they are a ton tougher in today's "new normal" than ever before, due to business demands and the evolution of communications. Take a peek at the attached article about 10 approaches to evolving the Agency-Client relationship - http://stratecutionstories.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/marketing-moxie-guest-column-in-talentzoo/

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