Making Smarter Agency Finance Decisions Part 5 – Reciprocity: The ties that bind

A05509Reciprocity: Noun; A mutual or cooperative interchange of favours or privileges

I’m guilty of using reciprocity here myself. I’ve written this blog (and planning on giving away a short book collating 10 ways to make smarter decisions) hoping to create a little reciprocity. If you’re reading and enjoying this maybe you’ll buy my book “Where is the Money?”. Maybe you’ll think your Agency could do with a FD who specialises in Marketing Services. That’s reciprocity.

It’s the principle a lot of organisations from drug dealers to charities work on: first give, then take. Maybe you’ll be immune to the principle of reciprocity and read the blog/book and move on. And that’s fine and how it should be

Reciprocity is a powerful survival tool. Share your bounty in the good times so that you are included in someone else’s successes in the future when you might not be so fortunate. It is common to every society and it is part of so many everyday transactions.

In business too, it is a powerful tool. Being aware of and using reciprocity should be inherent in our dealings with suppliers and clients. It’s the basis of good client service but when used strategically it can create ties that bind.

Suppliers will hope to create a feeling of reciprocity so that you feel obliged to use them. Whether it’s a free giveaway or a lunch it’s a well-worn tactic. Being aware of it and being ruthless about using the best value/cheapest supplier is undoubtedly the right choice but you will have to cut through any feelings of reciprocity that has been established. In the stricter regimes in the City even the muffin basket is turned away to avoid any possibility of reciprocity influencing behaviour.

This is why it is difficult to get the call when a client calls and says goodbye. You would not be human if you didn’t feel let down as they obviously don’t know how hard everyone had worked on the account. And that’s a hard truth to understand – working hard and producing good work isn’t enough to create reciprocity.

Only solving your client’s problems and becoming a trusted advisor rather than a supplier will help you establish reciprocity.

Case Study

I can’t quite believe this was 13 years ago but after 9/11 our biggest client, British Airways, faced catastrophe. No one was flying and they were looking around for every cost and cashflow saving they could make.

Looking back we took advantage of the bonds that reciprocity, during that difficult time, would create. We stepped up with drastic cost savings and a moratorium on cashflow. We shared their bad times so that when better times returned we were able to negotiate a far bigger share of the business. Every crisis creates an opportunity.

Now, not every negotiation or request for a discount is as dramatic as this was but it is always worth thinking whether sharing the pain will create an opportunity a little further down the line.


Meeting the brief and delivering on time will get you paid. Going above and beyond that will help establish reciprocity. Knowing when to go above and beyond is key in building long term relations. You might not get paid for it straight away but the long term relationships that reciprocity can build will pay dividends for years to come.