“You’re right and we’re wrong,” said almost no advertising agency ever. It’s odd that we in advertising talk about being our clients’ partners (more on that cliché concept later) yet insist we’re always right. What kind of partnership is that? Would a marriage work that way? Would a business partnership? Heck, I can’t even be a good parent if I think I’m always right.

So where does this need to always be right come from? I postulate it’s the same place it comes from in any relationship: insecurity (probably mixed with a healthy dose of ego). Ad agencies are worried. The ground is shifting beneath them and they feel like “being the expert” is their only USP. And as “the expert,” you obviously can’t ever be wrong about anything. About a media plan. About a strategy. About what color the background in a photo should be. Nothing. What a huge mistake.

Yes, we’re experts. But so are our clients. We bring value from an outside perspective. A client brings value from an inside perspective. Both are important. Both need to be heard. It’s the melding of those two perspectives that leads to answers and success. A great agency isn’t afraid that a client might have a better idea than it does. Great agencies embrace brilliance no matter where it comes from. This doesn’t mean you roll over. It simply means you judge objectively. Best ideas win.

But what’s left for an agency then? Well, that brings us back to the partnership idea. Ad agencies constantly insist they’re “partners” with their clients. First, can we please stop using that cliché? It’s tired. But more importantly, it’s not enough. A partner still suggests two entities; there’s a division between two organizations that at times have opposing goals. Great agencies are more than partners with their clients. Great agencies are a part of their clients. There’s very little separation or distinction between the two. Examples? W&K and Nike. Chiat and Apple. If the company were a body, the agency would be an arm, not simply a tool the arm uses. Partnerships can separate and dissolve. But nobody wants to lose an arm.

Bringing these two thoughts together, what I’m really talking about is what DDB calls “co-creation.” Working together with clients as one in the development and execution of work under the premise that nobody has a monopoly on creative thinking. Everyone has roles, but those roles blur. Successful agencies are getting better and better at working this way. And successful companies are expecting this more and more of their agencies.