Building the best agency relationships

Tips from a 20-year industry veteran

Although I’m still learning every day, this milestone has me reflecting on my long career in agencies and client partnership. Specifically, when have I done my best work? What are some of my best (and worst!) relationships? Through these years I have seen many pendulum swings from long-term relationships, retainers, and hiring of different agencies for every initiative. Regardless of those trends, there are some fundamental truths to positive, mutually beneficial relationships (aka how to get the best work out of your agency).

Start with Hello...

Before you can have a great relationship with your agency peers, you need to get know each other. I’m happy to share a bit about what makes agency people tick. I have encountered some of the most brilliant minds in the agency world. These are human empaths, strategic wizards, business gurus and true artists who choose the agency life. If I may generalize, agency people crave variety. The constant challenge of stretching our skills to apply to new categories, new mediums and new problems keeps us interested and sharpens our minds. We are also more motivated by positive experiences with a team than by solo trail-blazing. We chase the high of celebrating together. Our ultimate goal is moving people and seeing your business grow as a result. This is passion-fueled energy that you can borrow to light up your next project…and if the relationship is strong, there’s nothing your agency team won’t do for you!

Trust each other

According to one of my favorite clients, “Great agency relationships are an extension of your brand team, a team in which you win together.” When both sides are mutually invested, we begin to understand each other’s strengths and blind spots, and can discuss them openly because we have built trust. We can talk about what’s next – plan today with tomorrow in mind. We build an efficient process to get the best outcomes, and we rely on each other to help solve any road bumps that come along. When there is trust, there is also room for failure – which allows our teams to stretch their thinking into potentially game-changing territory.


Beth Hoskins

Brand Director
Share Article


Share the Big Challenges
A great agency is full of strategic and creative minds. We have a powerful problem-solving tool – creativity. Let us use it to tackle the business challenge – not just the creative challenge - in new and unexpected ways. Bring us into the bigger conversation behind the initiative, the true business opportunity or problem you need to solve. Not only will you get some unexpected ideas, but you will provide us with necessary context for how to tackle the challenge at hand.


Work as Partners
Adopt a “we” mentality instead of an “us/them” perspective. Although you may be responsible for writing the brief, we can help you think through scenarios to inform the objectives or partner to set clear goals for the project. Working together to frame in the goals creates mutual accountability that drives results. And it’s true at Spicefire, we are most invested in the success of the initiative, not in simply getting cool work out the door.


Ideate Together
While agency/client sessions are common, it really is a critical part of the creative process. After decades in the business, I can confidently say our Spicefire co-creation sessions are especially unique. We plan and facilitate the sessions, but our clients are there with us – getting invested, creative and sometimes a little uncomfortable. Something magical happens when we are all working together – there is an honesty and vulnerability that allows us to get much further, much faster. When an idea creates momentum, and the group feels we have hit upon something exciting – we have won together.


Talk About Money
As mentioned, trust and mutual respect are fundamental. We all understand we are running businesses to be profitable, so money is obviously part of the relationship. If you have a budget range, there is no harm in communicating that to your agency. In fact, there is great upside. In the best agency relationships, your partner will be honest about what is achievable within that budget. And if you’ve shared your business objective, we can tailor the approach to meet your real needs. Often, Spicefire will outline multiple options for how to solve our client’s challenge. These options will range in cost, but with each we will outline the risks & rewards to fuel honest conversations.


Aim for Long-Term Relationships
Investing in a great relationship means you will reap the rewards from your agency, including a fluency in your business, awareness of each other’s blind spots, a more efficient briefing process and project flow, and a partner who is dedicated to your success. For our long-term client partnerships, we can prioritize their needs and recognize when they need some fresh perspective or a provocative push. It’s this combination of trust and implicit knowledge that inspires our team’s best work. There is a security and a motivation to solve our client’s business problems and we can plan the project today with tomorrow in mind. For Spicefire, this has resulted in client relationships that span many years. (In fact, over 70% of our current clients have been working with us for six to eight of our 10 years in business!)

As I reflect on the last two decades, I can see how much the business of design and branding has changed. Our deliverables, our processes, our agency structure – they’re all wildly different than when I began my career. But the true constant is relationships. It might sound simple, but at the heart of every successful initiative is a mutually beneficial relationship that leads to great work and happy people.


Beth Hoskins

Brand Director
Share Article

Let’s create something
big together.

We love collaborating through challenges, big and small. If you're looking for a true partnership, we'd love to hear from you.