A Long, Slow Walk Toward the Altar - Pharmaceutical Executive


A Long, Slow Walk Toward the Altar

Pharmaceutical Executive

The Hidden Costs

Obviously, there are actual costs when agency/client relationships end—hours agencies don't bill and won't ever recoup, and a client left feeling like they've spent a lot of money and don't have much to show for it. But there are other, less obvious costs that impact more than the bottom line.

The learning curve. We often hear reference to the value of the learning curve, the institutional knowledge that is built when an agency learns a client's business. Over time, the agency learns more than the product, the market, and the sales channels. It learns a client's procedures, communications channels, and med-reg process. The client learns an agency's processes, workflow patterns, and timing requirements. Knowing how the other works not only makes working together more efficient, but allows the agency to contribute on a deeper level.

History. With client team members swapped out as often as they are these days—on average, a product manager stays on board for about 18 months before moving on—it's critical for someone to have the history on the brand. Often, that's the agency. They can be invaluable when it comes to knowing strategies that have been discussed, understanding the target markets inside and out, and knowing what's been tried and failed in the past.

Trust. Clients and agencies that have chemistry and trust show it. They speak in shorthand created and learned under pressure. They're comfortable asking questions and challenging each other's thinking. Tight deadlines have bonded them together and helped turn nervous activity into positive energy. The agency isn't looking over its shoulder worried about a client's support, and the client isn't holding its breath hoping the agency will come through. As a group, they have confidence in what they can accomplish together.

Trust is the glue that holds agencies and clients together. But here's the thing—it takes time and energy, mistakes and mishaps. Cutting off an agency relationship too soon simply doesn't give it a chance to build.

The Continued Courting Ritual

The age of limited time and money is not going away. And the age of digital relationships and "brands called 'me'" has just begun. We're not going back to the days of corporate owners rolling up their sleeves and dealing directly with agency principles to create hall-of-fame campaigns. Some of those stories might have been enhanced by urban legends anyway.

Despite what's happening around us, however, we've got to get back to being better at relationships. If we don't, both clients and agencies suffer, not to mention the brands.

How? Stay tuned for Part II of this series. Don't expect secrets and miracles. Relationships take communication, time, and effort—which is not easy in today's digital, connected, fractionated, self-focused world.

Al Topin is president of Topin & Associates, a full-service medical marketing communications firm, and a member of Pharm Exec's Editorial Advisory board. He can be reached at


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