The theme for this issue is the collaborations that marketers need to foster to create that big marketing sound, but as we learned from Beyonce and Jay-Z it’s not always easy. Marketing journalist Morag Cuddeford-Jones casts a cynical eye over the true nature of the relationships between marketing, their agencies and tech vendors, but has some positive advice on how to go from bitchin’ to a bitchin’ relationship.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks you to dredge up an adland cliché? The square specs? The black polo necks? The martinis?

Certainly, getting together over boozy lunches that turned into woozy afternoons and went on into inebriated evenings was nothing strange in them good ol’ days. But, what do you think those madmen (c’mon, did you ever see pics of the gals doing anything other than serving the drinks?) were gossiping, sorry, talking about? It wasn’t the price of a full-page spread in Vogue.

Nope, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts they were engaged in Olympian-standard bitching about their clients. Too controlling, unrealistic expectations, not a creative bone in their bodies…the list goes on. In American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis took bitching about clients to a whole new level.

Whingeing about suppliers, clients and partners aren’t limited to smoke-choked dives and Huey Lewis and the News-obsessed lunatics. The mildly antagonistic relationship between buyer and supplier was always kind of expected, the tensions necessary to keep everyone on their toes.

But, isn’t that a bit counter-productive and frankly, just a bit exhausting?

It all comes down to power. More specifically, one party mistakenly believing they have a lot and the other convinced they hold too little. When, in reality, a successful supplier relationship isn’t down to power at all. It’s economics (or perhaps capitalism, I’m never quite sure. I didn’t get past the Mars Bar analogy in 3rd year*), pure and simple. You have what I need – I have the money you need.

When it involved less tangible services, like brand or management consultancy, there was always a sense that the supplier was somehow going cap in hand to the buyer. That somehow, good advice wasn’t really worth very much. Well, I’m going with Cindy Gallop’s advice when it comes to knowing your value: ask for the highest number you can think of without bursting out laughing.

That’s not advice about screwing clients over. That’s the fact that some suppliers – from freelancers to large firms – have spent far too long cringing over their own worth. And when you don’t ask – or get – what you are genuinely worth, you become resentful of the relationship. And so you start bitching. And then the whole relationship goes to hell in a handcart.

Today, we can add technology to that mix. Because of some mistaken power play, mixed with a little bit of pride and embarrassment, some marketers just don’t quite ‘get’ what some technology being sold to them actually can or even should do. They say knowledge is power. Well, perhaps so but on the flip side, ignorance breeds fear. And fear breeds resentment, and here we are again – pissed off at clients and suppliers who think they charge too much/too little or are selling snake oil/too uneducated to know better.

What successful vendor/client relationships really need is open communication and real, demonstrable value. Find your metrics, define them, make sure they’re clear and stick to them. Be wary – very wary – of the bullshitometer. Check out @DrDraper if you don’t know what that is. Then watch your face fall as you realize half your marketing materials are written in fluent bullshitese.

What successful vendor/client relationships really need is open communication and real, demonstrable value. Find your metrics, define them, make sure they’re clear and stick to them

Be open to industry norms. Some view awards ceremonies and top 10 rankings as an excuse for a giant piss-up on the client buck and some more Perspex to drive the cleaner insane (seriously, the stuff NEVER unsmudges). But if you can work with, or are selected by, some of the more reputable gong-makers, jump at the chance. Check out their criteria. Are they going to measure you by means that are open and transparent and meaningful to any prospective client? Do their judges have kudos and aren’t just out for a bit of glory hunting themselves?

For example, the marketing software vendor censhare is a client of mine specializing in content management and has any number of brand success stories which you can get your teeth into to explore the recipe for success, but there are two real ‘proof of pudding’ moments worth highlighting:

The first is its long-standing relationship with JaguarLandRover and Spark44, the latter a fascinating breed of ‘in-house agency’. It’s an agency, but not as we know it, Jim. Jaguar LandRover is its only client. But they enjoy a level of transparency and accountability with each other and other suppliers such as censhare that makes working together in an ecosystem – ever more important these days – nothing short of a dream.

The other pudding is Research In Action’s Global Vendor Matrix. Ok, I could toot censhare’s horn and draw attention to the fact that it is nestled quite comfortably in the top five of both RIA’s global and German vendor top 20 lists. But it’s also the fact that RIA pulls together such a diverse range of independent information about each of its suppliers, the examination so thorough that our buttcheeks are positively pursed afterwards. But no-one can doubt the thoroughness and authority of RIA’s findings.

As a client, if you seek out the agencies willing to expose themselves, warts and all, to such scrutiny, the foundations of your relationship will be firmer than if you sail blindly down Bullshit Broadway, bitchin all the way.

*You’re curious about the Mars Bars, aren’t you? My economics teacher tried to use them as an example of diminishing returns. That if you were given a box of them to eat in one sitting, the first bar was heaven, the second almost as good as the first, the third a little de trop and by the 12th you felt positively vomitous. I never understood how anyone could have too many Mars Bars and thus an economic necessity was lost on me.

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