No matter if you run a two-person start-up or a Fortune 500 corporation, picking the right agency partner can be one of the most important choices your business can make. But finding the right shop is only the first step – what happens after can be the difference between great success and epic failure.

Over the coming weeks, I’d like to share a few quick thoughts on what I believe makes a great agency-client relationship. Up first, the importance of true collaboration.

The best agency is the one that works with you, not for you. Too often agencies get put (or put themselves) in the position of becoming order-takers. There’s a sense that because you know your business better than anyone, it’s only natural you know the best way to market it. Maybe you do! But when that trickles down to casting, writing headlines, or deciding how big the logo should be, you’ve reduced the agency to a very expensive production vendor. It’s at this point you feel the agency isn’t adding the value they promised. Inevitably, someone on your team says, “Heck, we could have done that” because, basically, you did. Goodbye, agency; hello, time-consuming search, and the cycle begins anew.

On the other hand, a little order-taking isn’t always a bad thing. There are agency teams who consider themselves the protectors of your brand — maybe even protecting it from you. You ask for changes, but all you get is argument, pushback and halfhearted cooperation. Your feedback is scorned and ridiculed, not encouraged. The result is work that reflects the agency more than it reflects your brand and often not worth the hassle and conflict it took to create it.

It’s a fine line between too much control and not enough. As a client, you must balance your desire to have it your way versus trusting your agency’s guidance. It’s a bit like ordering a steak at a nice restaurant: you can tell the waiter you want it medium-rare, but you wouldn’t dream of telling the chef how to prepare it.

Collaboration isn’t about give and take. It’s about give and give. Each side in the client-agency relationship needs to give up a little bit of pride, ego and control when entering the meeting room. The point isn’t to “win” by imposing personal preferences on a campaign or an agency listing all the reasons why your ideas will never work. The point is for both sides to add value by respecting each other’s expertise and keeping top-of-mind the reasons why they partnered up in the first place.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the coming weeks, where I outline how important it is for clients to make sure all of the right people are not only involved but truly engaged in the process.