Focusing on customer loyalty has allowed us to fundamentally change our business model


This is the fifth of a series of interviews with CEOs that were included in a book I wrote in late 2010 called RARE Business. It was a collection of thoughts, ideas and strategies to help businesses ‘build better relationships with their customers and their people’. You can pick up an electronic copy of the book for free by clicking on the THIRD button down in the left hand column or by clicking here.

The interviews were included to supplement my own thoughts and experience and add richness, depth and context. In the interviews, I asked them what they have done to drive their business’ success, customer focus and how they have built their employee and customer engagement.

The last interview in the series was with Justin Cooke, CEO of Fortune Cookie and is featured in Client relations – A phone call is worth 10 emails. A meeting is worth 100 calls.

This time round it is the turn of Jim Prior, CEO of The Partners to share his insights.

Over the last 25 years, The Partners has been the most creatively awarded agency in the UK (Design Week League Table November 2009). Part of the global WPP Group since 2000, with studios in London and New York, The Partners offers brand consultancy and design services to national and international clients, including Vodafone, Deloitte, Aviva, Astra Zeneca and The National Gallery.

In November 2009, The Partners was named the world’s most creative company by Design Week, beating Apple (it’s Design Group) into 2nd place.

Jim Prior, The Partners’ CEO, agreed to talk to us and share some insights about what has made his business so successful in retaining customers, building a great team and driving repeat business and growth. Here are some of his insights:

  1. Consistently over-deliver against expectations. Client relationships are strengthened by surpassing expectation in terms of the nature (or quality) of the deliverable against the stated brief, and in terms of delivering more than specified in the brief.
  2. Every relationship is different. We manage client relationships through our most senior people, adopting a bespoke approach towards the structure and programme of work for each situation.
  3. We aim to lead our industry. Promote our reputation in the industry and amongst existing and prospective clients through a concerted effort to win creative awards and as thought leaders on relevant topics.
  4. Get the initial part right. Occasionally a relationship may not work out as desired. When this occurs it is often because the brief was not properly clarified and agreed by both parties up front. We have learned that a clear, agreed brief is essential to our work.
  5. Clear positioning in the marketplace. In general I would say that our business is very clearly positioned in the marketplace. Where a client chooses to work with us they do so with a clear expectation of what they will get from us and also of the nature of the relationship that we will form with them. This generally means that our relationship remains strong throughout the work. We have learned that it always pays to stay true to our positioning when pitching for work, even if that means losing the pitch.
  6. Everyone is hands on. This is a relatively small organisation, 50 people, so our senior team involve themselves with our people in a very hands on manner. The ethos of The Partners is passed on through practical experience of collaboration in the firm.
  7. Don’t talk about culture, do culture. There is s a strong social culture to the business here too. Every Friday at 5.30pm all our people gather for drinks and we share news from the week, talk about inspirational books, films or suchlike. The culture of the firm is evident in its purest form here. Various other ad hoc events also draw this out over the year.
  8. Being the best means the best people. We are meticulous and unrelenting in our pursuit of the best talent to hire. We only select people who demonstrate technical talent and cultural fit with our agency. It can take us a long time to make key hires whilst we search for the right person, but that is a necessary investment towards the long-term health of our business.
  9. Loyalty has allowed us to fundamentally change our business model. Better customer retention and loyalty has shifted our business model from one dominated by short-term projects one dominated by long-term retained relationships with major clients. This provides us with the ability to plan ahead on a longer term horizon; gives more stability to the business; more sense of security to our people; and, ultimately, means we deliver better value to clients.

This is another great example of an established business that is leading its industry, empowering its team and delivering value for its customers.

Can you learn anything from their approach?

Thanks to ihtatho for the image.

24 comments On Focusing on customer loyalty has allowed us to fundamentally change our business model

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  • Interesting post but not sure the Loyalty tag is really relevant here. Sounds more like focus on doing really good stuff for customers of all sorts.

    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your comment. I’ve asked Jim to comment too. From my perspective and recollection, I think Jim was referring to a change in orientation in their strategy from one that was purely lead by acquisition of new projects to one that was built on building and nurturing more trusted, ongoing and strategic relationship hence the use of the ‘loyalty’ badge.

      By the way, saw you share the stage with Hugh MacLeod at the ‘Social Object’ soirée in July of last year. This is going to sound a bit ‘fanboy’ but I really like the work of both of you do.


      • I’m in full agreement with Mark’s question and Adrian’s response! Loyalty – by which I mean clients’ commitment to long-term commercial relationships with us – was the outcome of the efforts to build broader-based relationships through the delivery of consistently better work.

        The real driver of The Partners’ success is our intrinsic motivation to conceive and execute ideas that solve problems in imaginative and impactful ways. Great client servicing and loyalty ensues from that.


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  • Hi Adrian, some interesting points, I suppose the overriding message is if you do great work for your customers they will come back.

    Hardly insightful of me (sorry) but it really is a simple as that isn’t it?


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  • Hello Adrian

    Whilst I get the value of checklists, I also find that they have to be handled delicately. There is no magic formula that is independent of the people and the situation. Put differently, the people, the situation, the formula are all tied up into one – they are a part of a whole rather like a recipe. So you can unpick them – just don’t expect the same dish when you do unpick.

    I wonder how many companies can claim that they are doing everything on this checklist and are not a ‘success’?


    • Hi Maz,
      Thanks for your perspective. You rightly point out lists do have their limits and that not all companies who achieve all of these points will be a success and it will largely be dependent on their particular situation. However, what I like is that they provide insights to different approaches that can provide learning opportunities and catalysts for business improvement.


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