Power in partnership and a code to work by

By Teresa Allan, founder of The Magnus Club and leader of the industry wide Code of Conduct initiative. 

About a year ago I was hosting a roundtable with a group of agency owners. They were discussing the challenges of running and growing their agencies, and discussions kept returning to a common theme.

Client relationships.

Why do clients ask agencies for the wrong things? And why do agencies (more fool them) keep delivering it? Bad briefs, uninspiring work, unprofitable work, unhealthy relationships.

The truth is that for as long as the marketing agency has existed, clients have had the main vote. However, unless you’ve worked as a client and in an agency it’s very hard to understand both sides.

Agency life can be long, relentless and constantly changing. There’s a lot of people being asked to do the impossible on a shoestring. But guess what? It’s the same for clients at their end, and the reality is that we’re pretty much the same as marketers – beholden to each other, sometimes with little control on budget and priorities, and little clear vision of what lies ahead.

So we’ve decided to do something about it.

To try and tackle the age-old client/agency partnership problem we’re going to get our own house in order and start with the B2B sector.

We agreed that many of the frustrations and challenges that exist in our industry can be overcome with three things:

  • Firstly, clarity of communications. Saying what you mean and cutting to the chase.
  • Secondly, transparency. Even if that means admitting that you don’t have the answers.
  • And finally, trust, in each other’s professional expertise to do a good job.

As we all know, it’s easy to identify these things, and it’s another to change entrenched behaviours around them. Bad habits are everywhere, people say yes when they really mean “that will never work”, and pleasing the boss, or the client, often overrides common sense. As we rush to meet deadlines we all forget to stop, question, understand and test our thinking on what really needs to be done.

All this is why we’ve agreed to develop a B2B Code of Conduct that will work for both agencies and clients. It’s something that will set out a set of simple ‘rules’ to live by professionally. And it’s the first time I’ve seen the entire B2B marketing industry, agencies and clients, come together to work on a joint initiative.

But it goes much further than addressing frustrations or avoiding difficult conversations. It’s really about accelerating the B2B marketing industry as a whole. And what a time to do that.

Well before we knew about Coronavirus in 2019, the B2B Nation Report from B2B Marketing estimated that B2B accounted for 44% (or £1.7 trillion) of the UK’s business turnover. And it estimated that over 50% of FTSE 350 companies were pure B2B businesses. And now, as we get used to living with the pandemic, we’re seeing supply chains re-organising, technology transformation escalating and new business models emerging. Getting business communications right has never been more important.

We can see B2B coming into its own at a human level, too. It’s full of intelligent, creative people who understand the complexities of selling to multiple stakeholders and don’t see B2B as a creative ‘backwater’. We’re also tech-savvy and the developments in martech now enable us to be more precise and prove ROI for our work. But we can make this even better.

As time passes, we want the Code of Conduct to evolve to address diversity and inclusion issues in our organisations, and grow in its scope. But for now, it’s a starting point for a conversation.

So customise and change it to make it work for you, whether you are an agency or a client. But please, let’s just do it together in partnership.

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