Valentine’s day is a special day for celebrating romantic love in all its forms. Of course, it has a wonderfully murky past; if you don’t already know the grisly story, I’ll leave you to Google it for yourself. Still, it’s a good time to ponder all the wonderful (and not so wonderful) permutations of relationships, and reminds me of the many parallels between agency/client relationships and the path of true love.
The blind date
The date that everyone dreads. A friend of a friend thinks ‘you are just perfect for each other’, or maybe you just found each other online. There is a bit of toing and froing, as both of you are a little unsure, but you finally get to meet up. It’s somewhere neutral (unless it’s the client’s office) and you bring along a couple of friends just in case it turns out you have nothing to say to each other. Of course, it can go horribly wrong but it doesn’t have to be that way – with a little preparation, some good listening, honesty (AKA ‘managing expectations’) and a bit of courage, it could just be the start of something great.
The one night stand
The ‘date’ that no one admits to. It wasn’t what you intended when you started out. Maybe you both had high hopes for the relationship but somehow the chemistry wasn’t there. So there you are – it’s the morning after (for the client and agency this might be after one small project), and you’re both feeling a little uneasy – you know it’s over. It never really started. It might not be them – or you. You’re just not right for each other. Everyone’s been there. Best to get out now before anyone gets hurt.
The slow burner
You’ve known each other for years, chatted in the bar at IoF on numerous occasions, exchanged emails, met each other for coffee, you admire each other’s work, have mutual friends… You know you are made for each other: it’s time to ‘piss or get off the pot’, as my mother would say, and just go for it. When they finally happen, these can be some of the most rewarding relationships because you’ve taken the time to get to know each other, you pretty much know what to expect and, when you finally get going, you are ready to fly.
Just good friends
The first cousin of the ‘slow burner’. The scenario is similar; you’ve known each other for years but, in this instance, it’s just too late. You are firmly relegated to the ‘friend’ category and it’s probably never gonna happen. Is there anything you can do about it? Maybe you could stop giving them free advice – especially if they haven’t asked for it – or stop asking for it. You could just ask them outright – if they turn you down, you would probably still be friends. Or just be okay with friends – after all, good friends are hard to come by – and, who knows, they might just wake up one day and realise what a treasure you are.
How do you know when you have found true love? Well, you just do, don’t you? You laugh at each other’s jokes, finish off each other’s sentences… if you’re a client and agency, you produce amazing campaigns together, win awards together, raise your charity loads of money and life is so much more enjoyable with each other around. Of course there are ups and downs – the path of true love never runs smooth – but you respect each other and know that each of you is looking out for the other, and you have a common goal which is bigger than the both of you, so you have a strong desire to make it work and you communicate to sort out any issues.
Rekindling ‘old’ love
Is it love or is it stalking? In the real world, this rarely works out – I should know I have tried it. But while it’s nearly impossible to rekindle the flame in romantic relationships, it can actually work very well in agency/client relationships. You have worked together in the past so you know a bit about each other but, in the meantime, personnel may have changed on both sides meaning that the chemistry may be different and better this time around. Of course you’ll have to discuss what went wrong in the first place: Had your client cheated on you and run off with another agency? Was the agency constantly making eyes at your main competition? The nitty-gritty of the past will need to be resolved so you can move on to your beautiful future together.
When the romance is over
You made it through the pitch, done some amazing campaigns together, massively improved the ROI but somehow it’s not the same anymore. It’s gone from butterflies in the stomach to ‘always being in a meeting’, from spending quality time over tea and biscuits to flicking through Third Sector, wondering who else is out there. There is no point in ‘staying together for the kids’. Better just face it. It’s over. Time to move on before it makes everyone miserable. Just do your best to be nice and honourable about it, and treat each other with respect. No hard feelings. Who knows, we may meet again soon – it’s a small world in the charity sector, after all.
The agency/client relationship is just like all other relationships at the end of the day. It takes a little bit chemistry, a bit of give and take, some honest communication, good intentions towards each other, a soupçon of creativity, being prepared to work at it, a great deal of passion and there’ll be a whole lot of love. This might sound a little bit cheesy but my reputation at work and in life is for being a little bit ‘new-agey’, holistic and hocus-pocus so I’m okay with that.
My on-off-on again relationship with Burnett Works
My own personal philosophy is never to retrace my own footsteps yet, here I am rekindling my own on-off relationship with Burnett Works. Having worked here happily for almost eight years, I left in 2011 with no real intention of coming back. The next two years included travel adventures, a short period of working client-side (so I know what it’s like on that side of the fence too), a brush with serious illness (cancer – but that’s another story) and here I am back in my old desk, with a sense of déjà vu and wonder.
I think what drew me back is a bit of true love – that sense of something special – in this case, an amazing bunch of people who really want to make a difference in the world. That, and the extent to which these people were there for me in the midst of my cancer adventure.
Whether you’ve found your true love or you’re still looking, here’s wishing you a very Happy Valentine’s Day.