Veteran ad agency people have always believed in face time as a critical way to build trusting, strategic relationships between agency teams and clients. Nothing can beat the connection you get from a client-agency offsite, hammering out strategic imperatives, positioning and messaging to move the brand and business forward; or presenting a game-changing creative platform to a room of clients that responds with a round of applause.

But it’s also those less formal, in-person moments that make an agency-client relationship hum. It’s hallway conversations, spontaneous brainstorms, and random trivia after a meeting wraps up. These moments create bonds between teams that foster a foxhole mentality where you know you can trust each other to step up and get the most challenging tasks done.

Enter COVID-19, where a few weeks of working virtually has now turned into months. Most were well prepared, with the technology and tools for virtual workflows, to maintain productivity. But, the value in an agency-client relationship is much more than getting the work out the door. We need to have human connections to develop the foundation for trusting relationships – transparency, vulnerability and empathy. That trust leads to better strategic conversations, bigger, fresher creative ideas and testing new ways of getting those ideas out into the world.

But how can we maintain trusting, successful agency-client relationships if our face-to-face interactions are all but eliminated?  Oddly enough, not only have we maintained these solid relationships, we are building new, stronger ones that are transforming the agency-client dynamic, resulting in even better work.

Our new normal has left all of us in the same boat; showing our vulnerabilities, having deep empathy for others, and ensuring we are incredible transparent to avoid miscommunications and misunderstandings has become the new way of agency life. We no longer hesitate to ask for help and advice or judge someone for an unavoidable disruption or mistake. We are more vulnerable, empathetic and transparent than we’ve ever been.

Add to this less time spent commuting and in back-to-back meetings, each of us can focus more time and attention on the quality of our work, ensuring we don’t just take the first good idea but push harder and dig deeper.

This powerful combination is the catalyst we needed to change the agency-client dynamic back to one that is a true partnership rather than one based on tactical needs and assignments.

It’s still too soon to tell what else will shift. As both agencies and clients re-evaluate the need for brick and mortar to drive good marketing, there will be more change. But it’s good to know this change will sit on a strong foundation fed by the cornerstones of trust – vulnerability, empathy and transparency.