Joanne Hope, General Manager at John Brown SA, says that an agency has to really take custody of a brand to be able to take creative risks, but that can only be done if a client views your relationship as a true partnership, built on trust and a consistent track record.
As a content marketing agency, we tell stories on behalf of brands that bring their voice to life in the eyes of their consumers. That requires a level of trust from the client, but trust isn’t automatically awarded when you win a pitch. It’s built by consistency.
Our secret sauce
Content is not a temporary campaign, it’s an ongoing conversation and relationship between a brand and the reader and, therefore, we need to be engaged in a long-term conversation with our clients.
We listen to our clients’ needs, but we also need to understand what their audience’s needs are. To make sure we’re producing the best work, we go ‘beyond brief’. We always aim to become so entrenched in our clients’ business that we can predict their needs before they arise. We’re more ‘business partner’ than ‘supplier’ in that sense. Our relationship with Pick n Pay over the last 12 years is definitely a brilliant showcase of trust. Our editorial is informed by their business strategy and trade plans, but we completely own the editorial integrity of their content with the expectation that we are the authority not only on food expertise but on their readers too. They trust that we select what will be most interesting and useful to their clients, and they know we will create inspirational content.
As a partner, we always make a point of presenting proactive solutions that solve a specific business need, but these ideas will rarely see the light of day if there isn’t mutual respect and established trust between the agency and client. A good example of this is Supper Sorted, a brand-new mailer that we pitched to Pick n Pay five years ago for an audience that didn’t yet exist.
We’ve grown that mailer’s audience to more than 30 000 subscribers, organically, and the engagement rates are huge. That’s because we understood the audience need and could combine that with the product on shelves in-store. The audience also knows and trusts the quality and consistency of the content they’re getting. And we protect that trust – we don’t place any promotions above the fold and we are sensitive to how often they mail that audience.
Supper Sorted now supports Pick n Pay’s trade plan consistently and contributes to above-average sales. These tangible results have resulted in multiple South African and international content marketing awards in recognition of the needs-based and simple yet highly effective solution. It’s very time-consuming to build this kind of relationship, but we love doing it – it’s our secret sauce.
But how do we build trust?
Each client has unique objectives and appoints a content marketing agency for a variety of reasons. That could be to change their positioning, provide inspiration in order to sell more product or to create a watershed between themselves and the rest of the market. Whatever the reason, when we start working with a client we define what success is going to look like and put clear measurables in place, which gives us a goal to work towards.
When we set those KPIs, those measurables are not only managed between the client and the account director, our entire editorial, production and creative teams also need to understand exactly what those objectives are.
Operational check-ins and status meetings form part of the series of standard meetings we have with our clients to ensure we are delivering consistently good work, aligned with the objectives. However, we also have quarterly strategic reviews where we focus on the work we’ve done to date, how that has performed against the defined KPI’s and how that is aligning with a potentially ever-changing client strategy. We use the learnings from these strategic sessions to reflect on progress and inform the next quarter’s actions, which will bring us closer to or help us exceed the defined KPI’s.
Trust can only be achieved over time with consistent, on-point executions and continuous measurement.
As with any relationship, our relationships with our clients are not all perfect, but we believe that when and if an issue arises, it is not only an opportunity to fix it but also an opportunity to show clients how we deal with potentially difficult situations.
Nobody likes a fair-weather friend and when the rubber hits the road, you need to demonstrate that you’re not heading for the hills but, rather, you’re tightening your bootstraps and ready to resolve the challenge.
Rebuilding trust is about listening to what the concerns are and taking them seriously. We communicate proactively and we’re transparent about where things went wrong. Be transparent. I can’t say that enough.