Craig Bradley
Paul Phillips

Is the relationship as productive as it could be?

I want to discuss relationships…. I am no marriage counsellor but concerned that the pharma / agency relationship isn’t as strong or productive as it could be. Assuming you are confident you have selected a great agency, are you really getting the most out of all the talented people on your agency’s team?

For the first half of my career I worked in consumer agencies with clients like P&G, Levi’s and Nestle, while the latter half was spent running a healthcare agency working with pharma clients. I’ve seen relationships that clicked and others that didn’t. And I’ve spent a lot of time over the years reflecting on why.

I’ve never been a client, but I think I’d be a pretty demanding one. This is a very competitive business, so I’d carefully select exactly the right agency with the best people and I’d have very high expectations. But I’d also want to be the account everyone in the agency requested to work on. I’d like my agency team to jump out of bed every morning and look forward to getting to grips with my issues.

It’s not always easy to achieve that because clients are under ever-increasing pressure to achieve more at an ever-increasing speed. You’re also managing multiple stakeholders and suppliers, keeping many plates spinning. So, it’s not surprising that you can’t meet the agency face-to-face as often as you used to. The relationship becomes less collaborative and more transactional. There is less open debate between you and the agency, and small issues, that could be resolved quickly, become sores that get rubbed. Before you know it, the agency is no longer a business partner. Instead it’s become a supplier you manage at arm’s length.

What’s interesting is that clients are expected to make this important relationship work without any coaching. I’ve come across several who admitted they hadn’t worked with an agency before but were required to coordinate complex campaign development from day one. In contrast at P&G you get several months training before you’re let anywhere near an agency!

With this in mind I have created a new workshop for the PM Society to help address all of the scenarios above. It is quite simply called ‘How to get the best out of your creative agency’ and gives you an honest perspective from someone who’s been on the “other side of the fence” on how to motivate, inspire and truly get the very best out of your agency. It covers:-

  • Useful insights into how an agency operates plus pointers on how to improve the overall partnership solve issues and work together day to day
  • How to brief the agency
  • How to judge creative work, respond in creative presentations and feedback
  • How to work with the agency from initial ideas to an approved campaign and then through the production process
  • How to run a client/agency appraisal

Our next course is running on 14th November; alternatively contact the team to discuss in-house training opportunities. Visit to find out more.

About the author:
Paul Phillips was formerly Managing Director of VCCP Health. Prior to that he worked in consumer agencies in the UK and US, including Ogilvy and FCB.