Client/Agency Relationships

Client/agency relationships were the topic of discussion at last night’s IABC‘s Munch n Mingle. Three case studies were showcased and each team demonstrated how important building a relationship is to the success of a campaign.

Presenters included Cathy Cowan, president of Cowan and Company and Ana Marie Atkinson from Casey’s Grill; Ken Evans, vice-president of APEX public relations and Kelly Harper, director, marketing head, retail investment products, BMO Financial Group; and John Thibodeau, vice-president, Media Profile and Cynthia Keeshan, manager, corporate communications and public relations, Microsoft Canada.

Cowan and Casey’s began working together in November 2006 to introduce a new prototype to Casey’s menu. The challenge was to acquire media coverage over a 12-month period. Cowan put together a month-by-month proactive media plan that was updated and revised throughout the year.

An open dialogue played a key role in the success of this campaign. Casey’s included Cowan in meetings with their advertising agency, updates and events with franchisees, the culinary team and suppliers. Keeping the dialogue open regarding the budget paid off. “When the Summer menu campaign and the Casey’s Cocktails campaigns were exceeding the initial planned scope of work, due to the higher-than-anticipated interest levels and success of the campaigns, we flagged this in advance and Casey’s decided to continue pursuing hot media opportunities to maximize coverage and in return decided to reduce activities planned for other campaigns in order to strike while the iron was hot and maximize overall ROI.” The new menu was a hit and sales took a favourable ascent.

BMO hired APEX to help them design a campaign for a new retirement savings plan for boomers. BMO and APEX found that early engagement and extensive research helped them focus on “target audiences’ attitudes about retirement and identify a course of action that would position BMO as the first and only financial institution to publicly recognize changing retirement attitudes, and as such shift the way in which this customer segment perceived BMO’s services.”

The APEX/BMO team says that “working collectively as strategic partners where the client integrates their outside PR experts into the planning process at the very beginning helps generate a wide range of advantages.” These included:

More comprehensive due diligence on the effect and influence of a new system, service or product on the target market

Takes the trial and error out of the equation

A more efficient strategic planning process better enables collective creativity and strategic discipline

Campaigns serve a purpose, but focusing on the cumulative effects of a string of campaigns or activities over a one to three year period is a better barometer of success

The last team, Media Profile’s John Thibodeau and Microsoft Canada’s Cynthia Keeshan delivered on a campaign whose objective was to “create a strong corporate citizenship communications strategy that positioned Microsoft Canada as a Canadian company that was committed to addressing uniquely Canadian concerns.”

They did this by setting up the following initiatives:

Digitizing libraries so that visually impaired Canadians have access to printed works

Bringing technology into children’s hospitals so that critically ill youth can stay connected with school, family and friends

Bringing technology to communities of “at-risk youth” like Jamestown in Toronto, where technology can inspire and get youth on the right track

Working with police to create technology solutions to help them apprehend those that seek to abuse children online

Media Profile and Microsoft Canada provided an extensive list of the importance of “true partnership.” I think it bears repeating:


Bring your agency to the table — too often clients use one person to brief the agency on everything that happens in their company rather than inviting the agency to the table to experience the full spectrum of the client’s business goals and working environment

Don’t be a “gatekeeper” — don’t shelter your agency from senior management. Build relationships and trust in both directions

Share information — overwhelm the agency with paper, briefs, industry research

Invest in long-term goals — strategic transformation takes time and won’t show results overnight. Trust in the process

Invest in the agency — build the bench strength and institutional knowledge of your team

Allow dissention (to a point) — agencies can provide their best insight if they are given permission to disagree with the client’s view sometimes. This includes providing critical feedback on how you work together


Learn the client and the industry — it may go without saying, but building expertise on every aspect on your client’s business and industry is crucial. Invest in that knowledge, even if you can’t bill for it

Welcome critical feedback — be open to criticism and respond to it quickly

Understand the client’s internal processses and challenges — success often depends on tailoring your work and recommendations to fit the client’s internal marketing and sales deadlines and to describing your work and succeses in language that resonates for your client

Understand your role — What is your role? PR results? Impressions? We believe that our role is something different — partnering with out client to achieve whatever measure of success he or she has defined

Lots of good information here for PR students. Hope you find it useful.


2 thoughts on “Client/Agency Relationships

  1. mgesposito says:

    Hey Natalie,

    Great blog post! Very thorough. These examples definitely show the virtues of creating relationships in business. I think they also show the importance of open flow/two-way communication. I don’t think any of the above mentioned relationships would have been nearly as successful if both parties weren’t open to communicating with each other continually through out the campaigns..

  2. nsecretan says:

    Thanks, Marc. The rapport between these clients and agents was evident in how they interacted on stage. In fact, Ken’s and Kelly’s wardrobes even matched ~ unplanned.

    But you know, it also helped me because after all this time at school working on case studies has been a little out of context ~ I’m more of a hands-on kind of person ~ and now I know why ~ no clients.

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