Many agencies will cite their relationship with the client as the pillar that underpins their company ethos. But what does this mean when the lines between client and colleague overlap?
I’m talking, of course, about the life of an employee embedded in a client’s office every day as part of their team.
I joined Wonderly almost two years ago, and during that time I have worked exclusively at the Volkswagen Group head office in Milton Keynes. First as an editorial assistant across the Group’s portfolio of brands on our ‘Hub’ retailer communication platform, before joining the Volkswagen brand as deputy editor, then most recently landing in the role of editor at ŠKODA UK. Moving between different brands has entailed sitting alongside many different VWG employees in a variety of teams, and I’ve come to understand the complexities and opportunities of counting clients as colleagues – and even friends.
The Wonderly editorial team based at VWG are, I believe, valued as integral cogs in the company’s engine (pun intended). Our offering of editorial expertise, digital solutions and, increasingly, multimedia mediums through which they can connect with their retailer network has laid the foundations for a strong professional relationship. After all, nothing builds bridges like consistently good performance and top results. But for the editors on the ‘front line’ of contact with the client, this is only half the battle.
One of the family
Knowing the client doesn’t just mean understanding their business needs. Building rapport that extends beyond professional responsibility is vital in helping us understand the people we work with and what makes them tick.
Our team in Milton Keyes has stripped away the rigid formality usually associated with agency-client relationships and now we count many of our VWG counterparts as friends. We know what they like to do on weekends, how their kids are getting on in their exams, even the names of their dogs. This type of relationship can’t be cultivated artificially, and it can’t be rushed. It is developed over months – or years – and is rooted in mutual trust.
For your eyes only
It is our editorial expertise that sets us apart from our client. Communicating complex and often confidential information to VWG’s dealer network means we must have a holistic understanding of the company, its policies and its aims – and this sometimes means gathering information that is commercially sensitive.
Personal trust alone is not enough when it comes to business critical communications. This is when our expertise and professionalism are under most scrutiny, and it is only through delivering consistently good results that we have affirmed our position as trustworthy ‘partners’. Indeed, on more than one occasion I’ve been approached by VWG colleagues to tell me they often forget I work for another company.
A line in the sand
The relationship is not always straightforward. Though on the whole we are granted autonomy on editorial decisions, we sometimes come up against practices that are relics of the old corporate world.
Cases of article authors insisting on specific (sometimes confusing) language and style are not uncommon, and it takes conviction and communication to reach a suitable compromise. In these cases it’s important to believe in our skills and the style we have built on the platform. Sitting down with the client to explain why we do things the way we do, while still working towards a mutually acceptable outcome, is an important part of the job.
It’s in these moments that I’m most aware of the fact that we are an agency hired to meet the demands of their business. The mantra ‘the customer is always right’ often rings in my ears, but this is where the trust built up by the day-to-day interactions pays dividends.
On the front line
It’s not just the Volkswagen Group that benefits from having an editorial team on site every day. In a business that is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to do things there are always opportunities for Wonderly to steal a march on the competition and show what we are capable of. Whether this is developing new functionality for the site to meet a new demand or expanding our multimedia offerings, the trust we have built through our competence and friendship opens doors to new opportunities.
Working as an embedded employee gives us the best of both worlds and, though it’s not always straightforward, it creates an environment in which the editorial team can thrive.
Want to learn more about life alongside our clients? Check out 10 things we’ve learned from sitting next to our clients.