News and events

Cultivating a good business relationship between agencies and clients

PharmaVOICE - May 2019

Growing Together

Featuring Kymm BrownMarketing Director, TerSera Therapuetics,
and Allison Davis, Chief Client Officer, closerlook  


Kymm Brown and Allison Davis have worked together through many roles, phases, and stages of their careers, from the trenches to the launches. Knowing each other and their individual working styles so well is certainly an advantage for them when working on a project together, but that doesn’t mean that things always go perfectly.

The two have worked together for more than seven years over multiple projects, and both have grown from junior positions to leadership roles, and they have become moms over that time frame. They approach their relationship with a level of honesty to be admired. Using insight communication tools and constructive feedback, they have built an effective working relationship that enables them to tackle any challenge together with a sense of trust and humor.

“We have worked on launches together and we have been in the trenches and so, Allison has probably seen sides of me that many people have not, and wouldn’t want to,” Kymm quipped.

Like a true friend, Allison will have none of that. “I knew I was going to love Kymm from the start,” she says. “She’s got a great combination of marketing and sales experience, is a confident decision maker, is at times brutally honest, and has a witty and sarcastic sense of humor, which can be a much needed relief when working together on stressful deadlines. I have a ton of respect for her; she was one of my role models as a successful working mom when I first got pregnant with my daughter.” 

Kymm credits trust with being the glue for the relationship — specifically in hers and Allison’s but also in any relationship. “It’s all well and good if a client can say, ‘I’ve launched this many products or I’ve been in marketing for this long’ or on the agency side, ‘look at all the partners we work with and look at all of our awards,’ but trust is personal,” she says.

Part of trusting someone is believing in them to do the right thing, or expecting them to do their best, something Kymm calls “assuming the best of intentions.”

“It’s really important to assume the best of intentions of someone and really foster that communication between one another, but it all has to be based on trust,” Kymm says. “When I first start working with someone, I tell them I will do that for them and I’d like them to do that for me, because in the age of digital so many things can get misinterpreted.”

Mutual respect and a true partnership can cultivate an environment where both parties are supporting, empowering, and pushing each other. “There are times the closerlook team will push back on some of the things that I want to do and their suggestions actually make the work better, and there are times where I push on things that they’re doing that I view differently and I think that’s what makes it a partnership and one in which where we get the best product,” Kymm says. This is not something that occurs with every agency.

“I really respect the team at closerlook because very early on they knew what they were good at and they weren’t afraid to come in and say, ‘we see where you’re coming from but we would recommend this.’ And that was huge for me in building respect for the organization and Allison and the people I worked with.”

Early on in their relationship, Allison learned a valuable lesson from Kymm that she has been able to use throughout all of her business. “Through her direct communication, Kymm let me know that our work wasn’t the only project she was working on at any point in time, so we had to be cognizant of that and not be too aggressive in terms of what we needed from her and we developed empathy for the broader context of what was on her plate,” Allison says. “Of course there is a line to walk there, because we are on the hook to help her deliver on the projects we are responsible for, so it is our job to keep things moving but having empathy for what her days were like was a great lesson that we now try to keep in mind for all clients.”

Later on in their relationship, Allison returned the favor, when she honestly let Kymm know that even though she is very busy, she needs to take time to review documents and project briefs carefully, so that she doesn’t approve something that she didn’t mean to approve. “Allison called me on this early on,” Kymm says.

The closerlook team had sent Kymm a three to four page project brief, which she skimmed briefly and then approved. “I was, ‘yeah, yeah, it’s a Word document, it looks great,’ but then I got the end product and thought this is nothing like I expected. I’ll never forget, Allison says, but Kymm, this aligns perfectly to the project brief that you reviewed and said was right on track, and full transparency, I didn’t really review it that closely so therefore it didn’t match what I was thinking. So one of the things that I’ve had to do is really make sure that I prepare, take a step back, and have time to review before approving something that’s misaligned to what I really want.”

Both Allison and Kymm tout the benefits of using the Insight Discovery tool, a 20-year-old psychometric tool built to help people understand themselves, understand others, and make the most of the relationships that affect them in the workplace. The Insights Discovery methodology uses a four-color model to help people understand their style, their strengths, and the value they bring to the team. Kymm was introduced to the tool through one of her brand directors, who used it with agencies to determine working styles and to create a common vernacular for communicating those styles.

“This process was really helpful because one of the things that Insights showed us, for example, is Allison’s very red, which reads ‘be brief, be gone.’ Whereas, I’m usually pretty yellow, which means include me, but then there’s a little bit of blue in me which is, give me the details and I have some red, too. Before Insights, I think I confused the team a bit, because some days I’d be like, ‘let’s go through this line by line’ and other days I’d be like, ‘okay just cut to the chase, what’s the bottom line?’ And it was really helpful to be able to step back and say, ‘okay listen, for this task or this project I’m red, just give me the high level. For this one I need the details.’ That training was at least seven years ago and Kymm and Allison still use it to this day.

“Communication style is always something we have to work on whether it is a new relationship or one with lots of history, and I think with Kymm we work hard to match the pace and level of info that is most productive for her,” Allison says. “As a team leader I worked with my team to help them understand how we should present to Kymm. And we still sometimes get it wrong and take too long to get to the point so that is an ongoing element to work on. Having a shared vocabulary and short-hand helps here too — Kymm can say ‘guys, I’m red, I need you to get to it’ and we know what she means and how to adjust.” Sub, subhead:


The Challenge

Despite everyone’s best efforts to communicate clearly and effectively, and work in total unison moving projects forward, ideas can become misconstrued or go off track. When this happens between Kymm and Allison’s team, they use it as a learning experience, immediately address the problem, and move on.

One such incident they both remember well is when Allison presented a concept internally to Kymm’s organization before she had a chance to review it. Somehow wires got crossed and the presentation wasn’t finished in time for Kymm to review it first. Allison asked for Kymm’s trust to bring the vision forward without a review. The next morning, as the presentation was taking place, Kymm was thinking perhaps there might have been a better approach than the one Allison’s team took.

“One of the toughest things in client services is that you will inevitably disappoint your client,” Allison says. “Something won’t go right and it is crushing when you don’t deliver what they need and expect from you. Over the years, Kymm and I have had those moments, and my approach is to deal with it head on and take ownership, apologize for the miss, and quickly transition to making it right.” And take ownership she did, which earned her much respect from Kymm. “Literally within minutes of the meeting ending, Allison was on my phone saying, ‘that was a miss, I’m sorry.’ I was so glad that she felt comfortable enough to call me and address it. And because of her honesty, I was able to say, ‘look, don’t beat yourself up. I agree it didn’t go well, but it wasn’t horrible; I just think we need to talk a little bit more and not do things so quickly.’”

And at the end of the day, everything turned out fine. That experience actually opened up a new dialogue within the organization and helped the agency develop an even better relationship with their client.

A version of this article appeared in PharmaVOICE: Read the full article here

  Allison Davis
  Chief Client Officer, closerlook


  Kymm Brown
  TerSera Therapeutics 


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