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TRUST: The Five-Letter Word That Says It All

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Today we bring you a guest post from Barbara Bates, CEO and founder of Bay Area firm Eastwick.

Relationships begin, and are built on, a short list of key principles like respect, chemistry, and trust (to name a few).

But one word – trust – is unique. Respect and chemistry? If they fade, the relationship wanes or slips away. But trust? Lose that and it’s game over. When trust ends, so does the relationship.

Trust is a topic close to my heart and my business values. But too often, trust goes wrong in agency-client work. Why is that–and what can be done about it?

WHY THINGS GO WRONG

Too often client-agency relationships begin without trust. Companies feel wary because they weren’t satisfied with their last agency’s work. Agencies, too, feel cautious: when things have gone wrong in the past, the blame may have landed on their side of the aisle, especially when parties hear things our of context or only get one side of the story. But even with this disconnect, companies and agencies often work together, smiling and agreeing without ever doing the work required to be on the same page.

This fact reflects a common problem in agency-client relationships, and it’s one that Eastwick works to disrupt. Our tools include open conversations, data-backed results reporting, and real engagement from our senior team. But the real game-changer is our commitment to collaboration: understanding the business priorities and risks our client is facing and being clear with them on how we can help.

Trust, for us, is based on setting and achieving the right goals and showing clients how our work affects business – not only media – results.

WHAT MAKES TRUST POSSIBLE

Honesty is as important in business as it is in any relationship, and it’s a core value at Eastwick. We don’t candy-coat tough challenges, say yes simply to please the client, or promise that things “will be easy” (they seldom are).

Although some clients are surprised by our directness, we work hard to preserve it: it helps us figure out who is looking for an agency partner they can trust. And we use real information to guide strategy. We require–yes, require–results discussions in which we use data to demonstrate our impact and talk about how to increase it. And we work together, encouraging co-working time spent at our clients’ offices or even in our collaborative workspace.

You can imagine what this does for trust. On both sides.

We also take risks with our clients when we see a better way to do things. A few years back, for example, we recommended that a client grant an exclusive to a rising blogger with small but highly targeted reach. This meant we couldn’t scoop the big-name media honcho (and great agency friend) that the client originally wanted. It was a risky recommendation–especially since it was our first big move with the client.

The risk paid off (1800% spike in website traffic, five inbound calls that led to multi-million dollar business) and turned that little-known blogger into a long-term ally and rising industry star.

Better yet, shortly afterward, the big name guy covered the client anyway (great story, but a lot less traction). We built a long-term collaboration with the client in which we could all share our best ideas, decide together what the goals were, and confidently move forward. Once the client knew that we wanted them to succeed enough to take a risk in guiding that success, something shifted.

Together we began to build trust.

TRUST FORMS THE FOUNDATION OF THE RELATIONSHIP

Business is hard. Markets shift, key players move on, unanticipated events can alter entire industries – or companies – seemingly overnight. With a foundation of trust, agencies and companies can fall into lockstep, “having each others’ backs” and moving the right strategies into play as a unified team.

If there were one message I’d want to convey to readers, whether on the agency or the client side, it’s “don’t begin a communications relationship without a clear sense of trust.” Raise your expectations: trust is possible, and if you can’t find it with your existing team, ask yourself what both you and they can do to make that better.

The first step in any relationship is a conversation. Have one with us and our first questions will be about…well, trust.

For more on Eastwick, visit the official company blog.

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