The new game for client-agency-relationships

July 26, 2021
3 min read

It’s been a week since we published our book on “agency-client-relationships”. Thanks for all the positive comments, book orders and signs of interest. The book has been written in German language. But we’ll publish a series of articles in English language, too, summarizing our recommendations on how to build more sustainable and effective agency-client relationships. Today, I chose to share four key developments which affect the way we work together effectively as agencies and as clients.

  • Clients and their agency counterparts are navigating a fluid environment. Customer needs and expectations are changing at an increasing pace. The traditional top-down influencing model has been turned on its head. And every player and stakeholder can disrupt a company`s communication and reputation any time on any channel. This change asks for utmost flexibility, speed and 24/7 attention. How do we setup ourselves for success?
  • The lifecycle of client-agency-relationships has shortened. Decade-long relationships have become the exception. Project contracts are the new normal. Resource planning on both sides is challenging resulting in extra commercial pressure. Agencies try to expand their remits, Hence, the traditional swim lanes between different agencies dissolve. This new opportunity comes with the challenge to select the right agency-set-up. How do clients make the right choices?
  • Digitalization has given rise to a new range of agency specialist roles, transforming the way teams work with each other, with a higher degree of labor division and many new interfaces. Teams are grappling with the challenges of this development while embarking on a continuous learning journey and re-defining their careers. How will we assign the best talent mix for every given assignment?
  • Talent is on the move. It has become harder to retain them, when predictability of client projects is low and agency (and client) systems are too rigid to provide freedom and space to develop. How will the future of work look like?

How can clients and agencies collaborate more effectively – within this fluid environment, with one goal in mind? Our experience as client and agency leaders tells us, that together, we need to be better teams, who are aware of and respect one another`s perspective. We cannot afford to rush into a new relationship, gazing at the new partner through rose-tinted glasses, without a thorough knowledge of the relationship success factors at every single defining moment. This conviction drove us to write this book. We are going to share some key learnings during the next weeks to come. And we hope to hear from you and discuss ways forward to a more effective collaboration.

What is the biggest change and challenge you are observing about client-agency-relationships today?

Cornelia Kunze, 2021, July


Strategic communications, finally.

July 6, 2021
2 min read

I hesitated to write about this topic. Just because it seems trivial to me, because we talked about this for decades. It`s a big topic. And at the same time, it`s almost a pleonasm. How can communications be non-strategic?  What the past 30 years taught me though: it can and often is non-strategic, and useless. 

It can be random, tactical – and not effective, for all the understandable but wrong reasons. 

Sometimes, the tactics communication is known for, such as glamorous events, big press conferences, a film gone viral or a “cool” new employee engagement tool, are seen as the end, not the means to the end.  Often, nobody really knows, what the effect of these outputs are, but as everybody uses them, they somehow feel like the right thing to do. Many times, those tactics just please the internal audiences, and more is not required. Communications tactics can live a life of their own, l’art pour l’art, keeping a whole organization busy, without anybody asking the important question: “Why?” If consultancies or agencies dare to ask the question, they are perceived as difficult, in the way of the pursuit of a bigger purpose: recognition, fame, glory. 

Communicators who want a seat at the strategy table don`t limit their roles to storytelling, amplification of content, cascading and controlling of messages. They want to be a catalyst for change, an important driver of transformation in an environment which is increasingly fluid.

Here`s my set of seven guardrails to ensure, communication is strategic. They assist us in bringing to life the vision of a company`s leadership, to make change happen and to engage all the stakeholders in a meaningful way during that journey.

  1. Spend time to define the change you want to see happen – perceptions, knowledge, attitudes, behaviors.
  2. Be honest and concrete about what you are adding to the world.
  3. Know your audience and those who influence them.
  4. Be sure, you understand the often complex and fluid context, the opportunities, and the barriers. Find creative solutions.
  5. Be crystal-clear about what you focus on and what you DON’T focus on. Budgets are limited, your stakeholders` attention span, too.
  6. Work on a relevant and galvanizing idea before you jump to tactics. Tactics are exchangeable.
  7. Plan, orchestrate and ensure, every activity is trackable and measurable.

Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash


The Asian Century requires business leaders to step out of the Western mindset

Moritz Kaffsack
July 29, 2020
6 min read

When I first arrived in Asia in the 2000s, the continent was on the rise and yet back in Europe and the US, Asia was a rather peripheral topic. In many ways it still is, or at best the conversation is limited to China. That’s a mistake. One only needs to look at the successful strategies on display in many Asian countries to contain Covid-19 and manage the economic fallout. They are founded in a tremendous confidence in a unique, homegrown approach that has been gaining strength for many years. What we’re witnessing is just a foreshadowing of the leadership role Asian societies, governments and businesses are poised to take in this century.

What does this mean for doing business with Asia and in Asia?

To understand that, it helps to understand the 20th century, which, in many ways, was the Western century. In 2016 77% of all international students at US universities were from Asia. In 2007 44% of highly skilled Chinese professionals preferred working for a western multinational to working for a local Chinese company. English is a prevalent business language in many countries. These are all indicators of intense adaptation.

And it means that the Asia that Western businesses dealt with was in many ways adapted to them.

This momentum is now moving in the other direction. Parag Khanna, author of ‘The Future is Asian’, puts it like this: as Asia is globalizing, Asia is also Asianizing. How does this manifest itself?

Asia’s ability to innovate is growing by the day. In some sectors like e-mobility, Chinese companies are getting ready to compete at a global level. Countries like Vietnam are taking a sandbox approach when it comes to new technologies, providing the framework for companies to innovate fast with regulation shaped as the market develops and consolidates.

Local champions beat multinationals, combining rapid innovation with a deep understanding of market trends. After pioneers like Samsung, Alibaba, Huawei there is already a new generation of smart, fast-growing companies on the rise. Many of them are turning into regional and global players, like Indonesia’s Go-JEK, Vietnam’s FPT, China’s Byton.

In line with this development, there’s a renewed interest from top local talent to work for local companies. A survey from 2017 shows that a third of executives in Chinese companies moved from MNCs during the previous five years – and only 10% moved the other way. This talent pull will increase as Asian companies go global and send their nationals abroad.

Politics and political speech are increasingly focused on the national and the regional, from Indonesia to Malaysia, from China to the Philippines. Existing regional alliances like ASEAN are strengthened and new regional initiatives are formed – like RCEP, a free trade agreement being negotiated among 15 countries in Asia-Pacific.

These changes to the environment multinational businesses operate in, directly impact the most important stakeholder relationships that determine business success. And they raise a number of questions:

  • How can businesses better understand and successfully engage with Asian markets?
  • How can they thrive in a changing global competitive landscape?
  • What do products and services need to look like to wow local consumers with local experiences, in line with local values?
  • How do employers add value to a fast moving talent pool and provide both short-term gains as well as long-term career opportunities to compete with a myriad of other opportunities, including entrepreneurship?

Solving these is key for businesses to thrive in this new world.

But if mindsets of leaders and teams are stuck in the Western century, they will fail.

The critical success factor will be a change of mindset that leaves the Western century behind and focuses on the intense adaptation and collaboration required when operating in Asia.

Six ways to better equip your business for the changes the Asian Century brings:

1. Local trumps localized. Respect and harness the power of local insight, understanding and action to arrive at powerful local solutions. Empower local teams to make new connections and enable innovation to come from any part of the world, taking advantage of different perspectives to strengthen your proposition to customers, consumers, partners and talent.

2. Find your place in the ecosystem. To succeed, go beyond the customer. The eco-system has a tremendous role to play in the success and failure of a foreign business in an Asian market. Ignore it or deprioritize it at your own peril, and you may end up like the many companies that have exited markets they weren’t able to truly connect to.

3. Take a value-based approach. The days where investment, job creation and high-quality products was all that was expected from MNCs are behind us. To be relevant, build talent programs according to what matters to local talent. Connect with consumers based on their values. Talk to partners and governments about contributing to societal goals. Understand the national narrative and weave your proposition into it. The return will be loyalty, purchase, and license to operate.

4. Partnership at eye-level. Global teams win when they collaborate at eye level, taking local mindsets, cultural context and perspectives into account. This takes empathy and an ability to respect each other’s experience. The same goes for interactions with external stakeholders.

5. Diversity is now business-critical. Only truly global teams bring the best of all worlds into the room to find the right solutions. Break the hierarchy that runs from headquarter market to local market, move key positions to Asia and promote talent from local markets in Asia to leadership positions.

6. Lead with a global mindset. Leaders that can change perspective and see the world through the eyes of people with radically different backgrounds will be the glue to achieving both local impact and global consistency to enable their businesses to thrive in this new environment.


[1] Source: Forbes Magazine (

[2] Source: Harvard Business Review (

[3] Source: Fast Company (

[4] Source: Nikkei Asian Review (

Cover image by Duy Nguyen