This is a story about a Social Psychological theory called the Self-Determination Theory – and how its foundational elements are central to a successful and sustaining agency-client relationship.

In my last job I worked for a large multinational concept testing firm (AcuPOLL Research).  As ex-Marketers, we weren’t your typical research house.  We offered strategic and marketing counsel to our marketing counterparts at companies like Colgate Palmolive, American Express, and Arm & Hammer.

There were some basic principles that we knew always played predictably among consumers.

  1. Consumers never like to be told how they should feel.  I know I run into this occasionally with my wife and have learned to not tell how she should feel.  Only took me 20 years!
  2. Consumers like it when products make it easier and save time.  They feel it gives them time to do other things in their lives.
  3. Consumers like choices.  They feel like they are in control

It is this last principle that is at the heart of every successful agency-client relationship.

Self-Determination Theory:  A Social Psychological Theory that helps explain active engagement and psychological growth.Self Determination Theory

It was created by Professors Deci and Ryan at the University of Rochester and refined/elaborated by many other scholars across the globe.

The basic principle of the Self-Determination Theory is this:

There is a fundament need that is basic to human motivation to engage in actions with a FULL SENSE OF CHOICE.

 And to feel a sense of COMPETENCE.

The more COMPETENT you feel, the less likely a sense of PROCRASTINATION will set in.

And the less likely you’ll feel a FEAR OF FAILURE.

Which in the end will improve the RELATEDNESS of the engagement, making everyone feel better about the relationship.

While not directly built to explain how agency-client relationships work, I personally believe that this theory is at the core of how successful relationships are developed and sustained.

I’ll be presenting a webinar on this topic on July 10 at noon (EST).  Invites to follow.

So What Does this all Mean for You, the Marketer?

Means you need to give your agency some rope.

You need to trust them and believe in their abilities.

Means you need to bring on the agency for their strategic smarts and not their ability to “do” if this principle is going to hold.

And means you need to let them fall down and let them know they CAN fall down without it being the death of their time with you.