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Archive for the category “Conflict Resolution”

A game of smarts: Client versus or not versus agencies

Written by Nguyen Tran Huong Thao – s3411918 – G1 (SGS) 

Talking about the client – agency relationship, for the past three months, I have been exposed to lessons, information and stories from the agencies’ account side. ‘Every story should to be heard from both sides’, they say. Therefore, I decided to have a chat with Ms. Sohpie Lam, Marketing Coordinator and Commercial Academy at Mead Johnson Nutrition to see how it is like from the client site. With her background of 5-year experiences working in the Marketing and Commercial industry, what I have gained from the chat is totally worth it for my new try from the other site. For me, this is real a game of smarts when doing business between clients and agencies. 

Ms. Sophie Lam Commercial Academy at Mead Johnson Nutrition

Figure 1. Ms. Sophie Lam
Commercial Academy at Mead Johnson Nutrition Reproduced from Linkedin, 2014

1. They are on the same boat, but each has their own expertise

Client planning, according to Ms. Sophie Lam, is about having insights into launching products, making marketing strategies and product supporting programs. In other words, client planning people are navigators to lead the boat towards the land of brand equity and business objectives from beginning to the end of every product launching voyage, a.k.a campaign.

Agencies are sailors in this game with strategic promotion and execution plans. Each agency have their own expertise to lead the boat towards the destined harbor. For example, with Mead Johnson, Saatchi – Saatchi is chosen for a creative advertising and Awareness for their professional practice. Each agency has their own strength and contribution to the final brand and business objectives. What challenges Mead Johnson here is that how to get these puzzles smoothly combine together. Vice versa, what also challenges the agencies is how to make good collaboration with Mead Johnson as their client since differences in expertise may lead to different expectations and obstacles in a B2B relationship.

Therefore, the game is all about how to make ends meet from both sides: Mead Johnson and agencies, the client and the services, the navigators and the sailors. What makes this game special is that, if the crew cannot work well together, they already create storms and rains for themselves to suffer.

Figure 2. Produced by the author.

Figure 2. Produced by the author

2. Unwanted storms avoidance

So, back to the point where the conflicts can happen among the crew, normally, it starts with different expectations (Edmondson 2012). When being asked about this, Ms. Lam agreed: ‘Yes, it is important to have common expectations, or at least, mutual understanding between the client and the service providers (agencies) in order to achieve the goals that we are aiming to. Both have to respect and follow them as basic guidelines’ and the effective work is one of the most basic yet important expectation to be mutually defined and understood. From the client site, ‘effective work’ here includes timing, confidential information sensitivity and agencies’ ability to bring out the uniqueness of their client in comparison to other competitors.

Figure 3. Produced by the author.

Figure 3. Produced by the author.

‘Some agencies nowadays are too confident about their product that forget to look out for what their competitors are doing for our competitors. We know that sometimes we are such demanding client but your agencies are hired to bring out the best of our brand equity, being overconfident is dangerous that they will blind you from competitors. If we have inputs, or complaints, they are inputs to make us different. We might not be experts in your fields, but we understand our product’ – Ms. Lam shared.

This reminds me of Solomon and his statement on ‘live the Client’s Brand’ (Solomon, pp.8): Agencies should be the costumers of the client, to understand about their product as well and to make the breakthrough of positioning it in the market with expertise. This, in my agreement with Ramsey (2005), is the core idea of effective teamwork expectation between the client and the agencies: Complaints can be real good inputs and teachers to show us where to fix, how to understand the product right and to not pass by unnoticed mistakes. If we understand the product, we see where it should be as brand equity. By then, we know how to make it there. It is a collaborative game of the navigators and the sailors for a bon voyage to the destined harbor.

Proof of Life photo: Skype conversation taken by the author

Proof of Life photo: Skype conversation taken by the author

Word count: 660 words (not includes title and reference list)


Edminson, AC 2012, ‘Teamwork on the fly: How to master the new art of teaming’ in Spotlight on the Secrets of great team, Harvard Business Review, April, pp.3 – 10.

LinkedIn 2014, ‘Sophie Lam’, Profile image, LinkedIn, viewed on May 2, 2014, <;.

Ramsey, RD, 2005, ‘Handling Customer Complaints’, American Salesman, Vol. 50, Issue 10, pp.15 – 20.

Salomon, R 2008, The Art of Client Service, Kaplan Publishing, New York.



Article by Nguyen Vu Ha Yen Nhi – S3408772 

You’ve been working with the same client for a long time. If you’re not careful, the quality of a long-term relationship can quickly become vices, and over time you may lose your clients (Sobel 2009). How do you prevent it and keep your client relationships?

Figure 1. Mr. Matthew Collier – CEO of Y&R Vietnam (Reproduced from Campaign Brief 2011)

Figure 1. Mr. Matthew Collier – CEO of Y&R Vietnam
(Reproduced from Campaign Brief 2011)

I had a chance to talk with Mr. Matthew Collier about the topic of keeping relationships with existing clients. With more than 21 years of experience working in advertising industry gained both in Asia-Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, Mr. Matthew Collier is now known as CEO of Y&R Vietnam, a full-service communications agency. He leads a team of young and talented people who are almost Vietnamese to do the best possible work. As one of the leading global advertising agencies with 186 offices in 90 countries around the world, Y&R is working at being Vietnam’s strongest offering in integrated marketing communications with a mission to be clients’ most important partner. Y&R’s clients include Colgate-Palmolive, Ovaltine, Coca-Cola and Burger King.

Mr. Collier described client relationships are exactly like marriages. They are often long term and can become stale with time. And just like marriages there are always temptations of other potential partners around every corner. A different challenge to marriages however is that there is often change at either a client or agency side which can affect a long standing and successful relationship. It could be a new marketing director or product manager on the client side or new creative team or account director on the agency side. He continued the talk by giving tips to prevent that problem: “I think balancing the needs of individuals over the greater corporate objectives is the focus that senior level management can play. That involves coaching, team building, training and imparting the understanding that the company’s objectives are more important than any individuals,” said Mr. Collier.

Figure 2. Photo by me.

Figure 2. Reproduced from Calexis 2009.

Mr. Collier was very open to talk about a difficult question I asked “Sometimes some relationships are not going well and you do not want to keep on, how do you break those relationships and still be professional?” He told me a story about one of his past clients who had two divisions.  One division which he and his client had a fantastic relationship, and another division which they had an unhealthy relationship. The reason is from client side. His client had a different manager at the second division and that manager is terrible. That manager seemed to have no intention to cooperate; and he even did not want to pay adequate fee to cover the difficulties that the client was facing. Mr.Collier and his team came to the client and said to them: “On this piece of businesses, we can keep that fee but on that piece of businesses, you’re not effective for us, we need to increase the fee or we can have to say we cannot keep the contract.” He described it as a very difficult situation. “A very short answer is you should be honest about why it is not working and try to be fair. We need to hand over the work or cancel that relationship in this case,” said Mr. Collier. I agreed with Mr. Collier’s resolution. With the amount of work that the agency has been producing, a low price is never enough to create the best quality product (Jenner 2009).

After the talk with Mr. Collier, I have learnt that in order to maintaining long-term relationships with existing clients, a client manager should know how to balance the needs of individuals in an agency; and if the relationship is not going well, you should treat very respectfully and be honest with them about why it does not work out.

Figure 2. Me and Mr. Matthew Collier at his office (Photo taken by Dung La, Account Director of Y&R Vietnam)

Figure 3. Me and Mr. Matthew Collier at his office (Photo taken by Dung La, Account Director of Y&R Vietnam)

Words: 609


Campaign Brief 2011, ‘Matthew Collier takes top job at Y&R Vietnam’, image, Campaign Brief, 25 August, viewed 8 January 2014, <>.

Calexis 2009, ‘Why Client Agency Relationship Breaks Down, image, Calexis, 2 October, viewed 8 January 2013, <;.

Jenner, JA 2009, ‘The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Art of Relationship -Building with the Direct Clients’, The ATA Chronide, pp.1-15.

Sobel, A 2009, ‘All for one: 10 strategies for building trusted client partnerships’, John Willey & Son, U.S.

“Yes, I trusted my client. That’s why I married him”

The client-agency relationship is said to be like a marriage in which the couple fight, argue and bicker yet at the end, they stay because they trust each other. Now you can be skeptical: ”Psshhh, life isn’t a fairy tale”. Well, read on and discover how this true story can change your mind about the analogy above!

Figure 1: The client-agency relationship is often referred to as a ‘marriage’ (Reproduced from Parekh 2013)

Figure 1: The client-agency relationship is often referred to as a ‘marriage’ (Reproduced from Parekh 2013)

Sipping a cup of tea, Ms Thanh Tran – Senior Account Manager of Cheil Vietnam – looked as comfortable as ever while discussing the ‘trust’ topic with me. She’s happily married to Mr. Binh Le (the then-marketing executive of Dutch Lady) who was her client for 3 years. ‘It was all because of trust’ – Thanh starts the conversation.


Figure 2: Ms Thanh Tran – Senior Account Manager of Cheil Vietnam. Her previous positions were Senior Account Executives at Y&R, Wunderman and JWT. (Photo given to the author by Thanh)

I ask whether she agrees with the textbook definition of trust, which is “the willingness to depend on and believe in each other” (Sam & Waller 2008). Thanh nods, adding that although this is indeed true, the matter lies on how trust is built between the client and the agency: via similar values.

Thanh says Dutch Lady is the client she enjoys working the most with. ‘Binh’s team at Dutch Lady was really supportive of my agency’s work. Both sides believed in each other as we shared the same work ethics and personal morals.’ The chemistry built upon similar values blossomed into respect and trust. ‘It’s like what the theories say (Davies & Prince 2005). But how can we know that both sides have the same values?’ – I interrupt. Thanh smiles and answers that just like in a new marriage; it takes time and effort from both sides to understand each other.

Thanh usually takes clients to lunches and got to know them personally to assure them that she’s sincere about building mutual trust. ‘Treat them like your beloved, show your sincerity’ – Thanh remarks – ‘My client from Nokia once melted my agency because he asked every agency member whether he/she got home safely after the heavy rain’. If the agency also takes the effort to understand the client, it’ll be easier to find similar values and build trust.

I ask her what she’ll do if her agency’s values and clients’ are poles apart. ‘In this case’ – Thanh said – ‘switching is unavoidable. The client deserves to work with an agency which matches their style and vice versa. But usually both sides will try their hardest to adapt and switching is the last resort. It’s like avoiding a divorce’.

Figure 3: Like a fairy tale - Ms Thanh Tran and Mr. Binh Le on their wedding day in 2011. They tied the knot after working together for 3 years as an account executive and a client respectively. ‘We still fight whenever Binh complains about agencies and I talk bad about clients (laugh). But then we trust each other enough to let go of these differences.’ - Thanh said.  (Photo given to the author by Thanh)

Figure 3: Like a fairy tale – Ms Thanh Tran and Mr. Binh Le on their wedding day in 2011. They tied the knot after working together for 3 years as an account executive and a client respectively. ‘We still fight whenever Binh complains about agencies and I talk bad about clients (laugh). But then we trust each other enough to let go of these differences.’ – Thanh said. (Photo given to the author by Thanh)

In times of conflicts, married couples fight and so do clients and agencies. Thanh recalls yelling at her husband on their dinner date because he forgot to answer her work emails. Thanh says agencies and clients argue all the time, which is not a bad thing because through this they understand each other more, get constructive criticism and build greater trust. ‘Don’t take arguments personally’.

But it’s hard to remain level-headed during arguments!’ – I exclaim, to which she replies: ‘Remember that clients also have tough times with budget cuts and sudden changes in marketing plans. Understanding this will help agencies sympathize with clients and get their trust too. That’s what my husband tells me every time I complain about difficult clients (laugh)’.

To wrap up, I ask Thanh for 3 tips for future client managers. She summarizes her points succinctly:

–          Collaborate with clients, don’t confront them.

–          Be proactive. Initiate the trust-building process.

–          Keep calm and solve problems. Have a ‘cool’ brain and a ‘hot’ heart – like Solomon (2008) said.

Thanh finished her tea then told me before saying goodbye: ‘They say married couples must trust each other, so do clients and agencies. Without trust I wouldn’t have married my husband or worked with any other client. That’s why building trust is vital, and I hope my tips are useful for you.’

Yes they definitely are. This interview has allowed me to reflect on what I’ve learned about trust during this course and inspired me to become a great account manager. Oh, not to forget Thanh’s adorable love story as well! 😉

Word count: 660 words

Author: Nguyen Thi Nam Phuong – s3360654

Figure 4: Proof-of-life photo. This was taken during a party I attended with Thanh. (Author’s photo)

Figure 4: Proof-of-life photo. This was taken during a party I attended with Thanh. (Author’s photo)


Davies, M & Prince, M 2005, ‘Dynamics of trust between clients and their advertising agencies: Advances in Performance theory’, Academy of Marketing Science Review, vol.7, no. 11, pp. 1-35.

Fam, K & Waller, D 2008, ‘Agency-Client Relationship Factors Across Life-Cycle Stages’, Journal of Relationship Marketing, vol. 7(2), pp. 217-236

Parekh, R 2013, ‘Chase the Crown: Ad Age Searches for Longest, Strongest Agency-Client Marriage’, image, Ad Age, 26 March, viewed 5 January 2014, <>

Solomon, R 2008,The Arts of Client Service, Kaplan, New York

Making ‘Sustainability’ as an Extra Value for Your Clients

Writen by Le Thi Han – s3393951

Managing the client-agency relationship is very challenging when it comes to the issue of mutual understanding. Last week, I came to Nielsen research agency to get the professional’s solution to strengthen the mutual understanding and I was especially surprised by the way Nielsen created extra value for its clients.

From a friend’s recommendation, I was introduced to Ms. DinhThi Kim Huyen, who is a five-year senior executive at Nielsen research agency. Being an expert in measurement and information, Nielsen empowers its clients by providing deep consumers and market insight for a more profitable strategy. The company also has very good reputation with long history of operation and the staff’s skills. As one of the leaders research agency, both local and global clients, whether they are in media, consumer packaged goods, telecom or advertising from small to large scale, usually come to Nielsen for its services (Nielsen, 2013).

Ms.Huyen is in charge of not only leading the internal teams but also meeting and dealing with the clients. In other words, she decides how long and strong the relationship between Nielsen and its client can last. Therefore, I came straight to the company and asked for her experience in client management.


Figure 1: ‘Proof of life photo – Taken by Ms Huyen subordinate’

Mutual understanding is a must

According to IPENZ (2005), the success of human relationship is built by spending times and effort to understand each other business and circumstances. Although it takes a long time to proceed, mutual understanding between client and agency not only can build stronger relationship but also can produce productive and effective outcomes.

Educating your client and creating added value for them

However, it is not always that the clients understand what Nielsen does but they also have conflicts sometimes. For Nielsen, the biggest problem is the timeline as clients often want the proposer earlier than the expected deadline. “We understand that they are curious with the findings and want to set up the strategy as soon as possible but quality, price and time cannot stand equally for a successful project”, MsHuyen illustrated. With that misunderstanding, it not only can ruin the projects but also can harm the agency-client relationship.   As a result, there is a need for self-training to get mutual understanding between clients and agency.

Ms. Huyen shared with me her strategy in dealing with this problem. “First of all, we’re not gonna blame clients or complaint anything but accept the decision”, she said. “Secondly, we do tell them that the price-time-quality triangle cannot be fulfilled and try to give them as much as possible at that time”, she added. Thus, the client can understand how complicated the job is and tend to take it easier on the agency.

However, it still somehow can dissatisfy the client so Ms. Huyengave me a very clever tip to work on it. “We also ask them for quick feedback and develop a full and more sustainable proposal with extra research about related field on the first expected deadline”, she said.  It shows that the agency is responsible with the project but they also make sustainability as added value for the client. Moreover, both parties are required to work together so it can enhance their mutual understanding and relationship.

It is clear that client management is not only about satisfying the client but also about understanding them. The mutual understand between agency and client can be developed through training and collaboration of both sides. Moreover, creating added value for clients is also necessary to go beyond their expectation and win their loyalty in the relationship.

Word count: 597


Nielsen, 2013, ‘About Us’, viewed 24 December 2013, .

The Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand Incorporated (IPENZ), 2005, ‘Developing and Maintaining Client Relationship”, Practice No.6,

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