Interview with Ben Nazario, Chief Sales Officer at Sparks
Interview by: Gorazd Čad
Photo credit: Personal Archive


We are very curious about how the agencies and clients work together, what do they expect from each other, how do they view each other, and so on. For this reason, we contacted both, agencies and clients to get their invaluable insight on the matter.

In this issue, we are presenting answers from the agencies, while in the next issue we will present answers from the clients. Enjoy the reading and be surprised!

Q: In your opinion, what defines a good agency-client relationship?
A great client-agency relationship can mean the difference between a good event and a great one. As a strategic partner who creates powerful event experiences for some of the world’s most iconic brands, we have found the best agency and client relationships are based on these seven elements:

1. Great partners give one another adequate time.
I’ve seen it too many times to count. No one does their best work with four days to respond to an RFP. Great strategic partnerships begin with the gift of time – time to understand a brand and company culture, and time to develop a strategy and creative that makes sense for your company’s mission and goals. Neither of these can be accomplished to their fullest extent in only a few days. Recognizing the importance of selecting the right agency partner, brands are finally starting to shift how the RFP process is handled. Pages of open-ended questions emailed to anyone and everyone are being replaced by briefs with detailed goals, objectives and budgets sent to a small, select group of potential partners. And instead of fast turnarounds and short deadlines to respond, agencies are being given ample time which they use to meet with the brand team to learn more, and to develop strategic recommendations and ideas. The gift of time is a key foundation to great work and great outcomes.

2. Great strategic partnerships have deep knowledge.
One of the best compliments we hear on a regular basis is, “I can’t believe Sparks understands more about our brand than we do.” This isn’t by chance. When partners give each other adequate time, it’s possible to attain deep knowledge. With a rich understanding, agency partners can truly work as an extension of your company – creating a powerful brand experience that enables better connections with your audience.

3. Great partnerships are aligned with outcomes.
A partnership won’t be as successful if one team member is more focused on winning an award or using the latest shiny technology. In great collaborative partnerships, both partners diligently work toward the same shared goals and success metrics. At Sparks, we firmly believe in the power of events to drive results and business impact. And that’s one reason why we’re successful partners: we align with our clients’ needs to demonstrate successful outcomes from their events.

4. Great partnerships are a cultural match.
For a brand and its event agency team, many, many hours spent strategizing, producing and working on-site add up to a tremendous amount of time spent together – frequently more hours than some families spend together in a typical day! It goes without saying that one key intangible quality of great strategic partnerships is that both parties share a similar culture. A good cultural match means everyone genuinely enjoys spending time together.

5. Great partnerships have open communication.
Sure, it’s nice to receive all the kudos when everything about an event went right, but both partners must also be willing to share news that may be hard to hear – like that part of an event that fell just a little flat, or a different idea needed to improve engagement next time around. Both partners should offer, and be willing to hear, honest feedback. An open line of communication builds trust and leads to the exchange of new ideas – both of which are critical to a strong partnership.

6. Great partnerships focus on continuous improvement.
It’s easy to sit back and ride the wave of success, but even when everything is going right great partners don’t stick with what’s comfortable. The best partners constantly push each other to find new ways to raise the bar and constantly grow and learn from each other. Sharing this attitude of continuous improvement is one of the best ways to make a good partnership into a great one.

7. Great partners provide a safe environment to take risk.
As T.S. Eliot said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” Great partners must be willing to take risks and must exist in an environment where it is safe to do so. When agencies feel comfortable offering new ideas outside what’s typically done and brands are willing to go beyond safe boundaries, that’s usually when the most exciting innovation happens. The cornerstone of any client-agency relationship must be honesty, respect, trust and understanding, but those relationships can become even better when given the gifts of time, knowledge, communication and alignment.


The cornerstone of any client-agency relationship must be honesty, respect, trust and understanding

Q: What’s the first sign of deeper problems in the relationship?
A lack of respect is the usually the first sign of deeper problems in a client-agency relationship. Whether that disrespect comes in the form of verbal rudeness, unreasonable demands, or passive-aggressive behaviour, are all signs that the relationship is headed in an unhealthy direction.

Q: Share with us a typical case showing mistrust between an agency and the client.
Thankfully, we do not have a typical case of mistrust. Sparks is in a position to pick our clients, just as our clients are in a position to pick Sparks. We thoroughly vet our potential clients for a clear match in company culture, communication style, working methodologies and other good relationship builders.

Q: What do agencies want to say to their clients?
Every agency has different core values and, based on those values, should have a clear line in the sand in terms of what is and what is not acceptable when it comes to client relationships. Sparks is firm on our core values and we make it clear to our clients at the onset of a relationship. If at any time we feel abused during a client-relationship, we will pull in an Executive Sponsor (each account has a senior level executive assigned to monitor the relationship between client and account team) to have a sit down with the client. If the issue cannot be resolved to the full satisfaction of both parties, we will kindly part ways at the conclusion of whatever project is currently in production.

Q: Do you trust your client in a process of event creation and execution?
As previously mentioned, the cornerstone of any client-agency relationship must be honesty, respect, trust and understanding. As the expert in our field, our job is to guide our clients through the process of event creation and execution. Sometimes the client has breakthrough ideas that completely turn the event on its head and set us off in a new direction. At other times, with respect, we listen politely and then exert our expertise in the area, explaining why an idea may or may not work.