The secrets to a LTR; you could win an Amazon voucher!

I read recently that the Obamas are celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary and Michelle produced a podcast to mark it by sharing her secrets to a long-term relationship (LTR). One of the things she said was that: ‘it takes a lot of work; a lot of honesty with ourselves and our partners.’ And, as we mark the 10th anniversary of working with Costa, and 12 years working with the Premier League, and 15 years with the Football Foundation, this got me thinking about what makes a good and lasting agency/client relationship.

Now, before I go any further, 61%* of clients claim to rarely, or never, read their agency newsletter, or just scan it for interesting headlines. So, to put all of you to the test, I’ll be asking a question at the bottom of this article and if you email me the correct answer, I’ll pick a winner from the respondents and send them an Amazon voucher.

But to return to the subject of retaining LTRs, when clients were asked to name their top three expectations* of agencies’ client service, they said:

  • Regular, high quality communication
  • Honesty and straightforwardness
  • Understanding the client’s organisation

There’s that word again; honesty. And it’s not just about admitting problems, or referring on if you lack the skills in-house to do a job, it’s also about being prepared to challenge clients’ thinking, either in terms of strategy or tactics. Almost half of clients (45%)* would like their agency to have a better understanding of the bigger picture, to look at wider issues, think longer term and proactively discuss ideas.

Failing to be proactive in developing relationships with clients can send out the wrong message. A lack of ambition can be taken as a passive, slightly sleepy agency culture. You snooze; you lose.

But in thinking about short term and long term brand building, why would an agency not think about trying to ‘take things further’ with a new client? It may only be an ad hoc project they were commissioned to do initially but if the chemistry was right and the client liked what they did then who can blame them for trying to move to the next level.

The other week, Mark Ritson was expounding the benefits of ‘Bothism’, where, amongst other examples, he reflected on the need for short and long-term approaches in marketing. And if you enjoy a respectful, trusting, communicative and creative relationship with your agency then surely it’s natural for you to travel that journey together as partners?

While I’m comforted that nearly two-thirds of clients (64%)* regard their design agency as a ‘partner’ rather than merely as a supplier, I’m also aware that in such a project-based industry, achieving partner status is harder to earn than most realise. If we’re going to claim we ‘partner’ our clients on our website, we’d better be delivering on that promise as there’s a perception (33%)* from clients that agencies could work a lot more collaboratively.

You can scroll through any amount of fridge magnets for what makes or doesn’t make a lasting relationship, including Mrs Obama’s ‘you can’t Tinder your way into a long term relationship’. But for us: ‘the best thing to spend on your relationship is time, conversation, understanding and honesty.’

Of course, in any relationship there’s often one partner who keeps banging on at their other half to try their passion, anything from playing golf to doing charity runs. Be warned, our passion is print and we’ll use any opportunity to talk about its effectiveness!

Oh, and to check if you really read to the end of this article, how many years of marriage are the Obamas celebrating in 2020? Answer please to

And a quick word from our clients as to what we mean to them:

“Nutshell are excellent at working closely with clients to create an outstanding end product. Their designs are imaginative, vibrant and help us land our messages brilliantly.” – Football Foundation

“A HUGE thank you and your team for all your wonderful work and support this year. We’ve really enjoyed working with you and MASSIVELY appreciate you helping us to achieve SO much engagement across Costa.” – Costa Coffee

“They have always been great at taking a creative brief, getting the hammer and hitting the nail right on the head! I know I can rely on them to just get the job done and in a fast paced industry that’s essential. And I know they will never skimp on quality.” – Tenpin

“What I’m impressed with the most is how they go above and beyond to understand the audience. With one particular campaign they went out, of their own volition, to speak to our target audience to bolster any research we had done ourselves. This resulted in a potentially very controversial campaign being well received by our stakeholders.” – Crimestoppers

1 What Clients Think 2019/20