The arc.

Agency-client relationships have an arc, just like movie plots and short-lived romances. The arc typically has five points:


Let’s look at each one, and for you agency young ‘uns who haven’t traversed a full arc yet, don’t despair. Sometimes these things can stay at Habituation for years.

Admiration. The client starts to hear about a new shop. Maybe he reads a trade magazine article. Or he meets the creative director. Or maybe he sees an ad he likes and tracks down the shop responsible. Whatever. He goes to the agency’s web site and likes what he sees. He asks around and likes what he hears. He googles the agency’s principals. He finds himself daydreaming about working with this new shop. His current shop doesn’t know it yet, but they’re toast.

Infatuation. With or without the pretense of a review, the client has consummated his relationship with the new agency. The people–they’re so bright and shiny and new! And their ideas—so bold! Their media plans—so nontraditional! Where have these people been all my life? And the wrap party for the anthem spot? Dude!

Habituation. He can’t remember exactly when. It was such a gradual thing. One day, the process was a smoothly-running machine. Everyone on the same page, deadlines all getting met. The next day: a kind of comfortable boredom. Business as usual. Not in a bad way—we’ve got a total Vulcan mind-meld going. But do the senses tingle? No they do not.

Alienation. If the client saw one more podcast-driven idea, he was going to scream. The art director’s piercings were no longer exciting—they were tiresome. The Account Supe’s verbal tics—were they ever endearing? He thinks maybe once. But not now. Every flaw, every glitch seemed to be magnified, like zits in a make-up mirror. And that franchise meeting where the new campaign was shown? What a nightmare!

Termination. What was the name of that agency the West Coast sales manager was talking about last night? They sounded kind of cool. Wonder what their site looks like.
Wow. Very cool. Wonder if this is the right time to make a change?

That’s right—it’s the Great Circle of Life. One agency’s alienated client is another agency’s smitten stalker.


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