Lessons from a fence jumper: Brid Drohan-Stewart on how to improve agency/client relationships

After many years working client-side with Coca-Cola, Brid Drohan-Stewart recently joined the Dentsu Aegis network. Here what she’s learned. 

Contrary to popular reports, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Let me tell you what I see as the three main differences and the three major similarities—and how to manage for better results. 

Three things come to mind when differentiating between the client and the agency worlds:

1. Neither agency nor client spends enough time trying to understand the motivations and drivers of the other organisation. To build a better relationship, you must get to know the other organisation, their culture, their reporting structures and, most importantly, how they make their money.

2. Clients fall in love with their briefs and agencies fall in love with their ideas. Openly discuss the brief and the creativity, both can be improved

3. Clients would prefer progress updates while agencies prefer the big reveal. Be open to both, involving the client earlier in tissue sessions and the like, as well as allowing the agency time to finish the creative output without being judged midway through the process. 

And three truths for both the client and the agency:

1. No one likes mediocrity. No one wants to see average ideas or ideas that have been presented over and over again

2. Curiosity is superb for business and superb for creativity. If you assume you know it all, then you simply lack respect for the other people in your team. If someone doesn’t like something, ask them why. If someone doesn’t understand what is being presented, explain it better. 

3. Giving and receiving feedback is never easy—for anybody. As your grandmother always said, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Learn to look for the positive in everything and be clear and impersonal on the negative. If something simply doesn’t feel right then be prepared to explore why.

Finally, remember that marketing is just a means to a greater objective: it exists because it helps to deliver on a business goal. It’s about selling more stuff, to more people, more often, at a higher price than the competitors. The way we do this is by making people fall in love with brands. It’s about generating value and then capturing it.

Whether you find yourself on the client or agency side, you must accept intuition as a valid contributor; be constructively discontent by re-thinking the rules of engagement and always put the consumer and the shopper at the heart of everything.

  • ​Bríd Drohan-Stewart is general manager of activations at Dentsu Aegis Network and is responsible for the ApolloNation and Synergy agencies specialising in brand activations across promotional, experiential and shopper marketing. She worked at The Coca-Cola Company for over 13 years across three different countries, including as marketing director in the United Kingdom and in key management positions in both Ireland and New Zealand. 

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