“Nothing kills a bad product faster than a great advertising campaign,”
said Bill Bernbach. A great aphorism.
And here is one of our own:
Nothing kills a new client relationship faster than unfulfilled expectations.
Today’s ad agency-client relationship is already fraught with hazards, from compensation negotiations to artwork ownership issues to vendor-v.-partner debates. The saddest thing is that, by applying the same rules to clients that clients apply to their own customers, most of these conflicts could be averted.
What do we mean? Were talking about giving the “customers” what they need and want, not what you want to sell to them. Agencies now operate in a consumer-driven economy, and clients are your consumers. Agencies need to approach new client relationships in the same way they research a target audience to sell a product or service—because they are doing just that.
If you have a new client, you probably conducted market and industry research to make the pitch. You studied the client’s challenges and opportunities, learned about products, channels and audiences, and generally became an instant expert on the company.
Now you need to look deeper. Sit with the client and discuss how to make the relationship work smoothly and beneficially for agency and client. Explain how you work and determine if that process fits with the client’s needs; iron out billing and payment procedures to your mutual satisfaction; and open the correct channels to ensure easy and accurate communications between your office and theirs.
What Clients Want Today
- Goal-oriented “Great” Creative. If that sounds like an oxymoron, think again. Objective-driven design is an important trend in this era of results-oriented marketing communication. If you aren’t currently using an objective-focused creative brief to help direct your creative work, it’s past time to start. The quality of the work should still be high-caliber. Objectives help focus creative efforts, not replace the need for innovative thinking.
- Results-based Compensation. Clients today expect agencies to be accountable. They want and need results, not vague promises of “response.” The current compensation environment is closely tied to meeting goals and improving the bottom line, and that is unlikely to change. Agencies must master the science of accountability, and learn to tie compensation to preset, achievable objectives. This means good timekeeping, accurate billing and regular recaps on projects in progress.
- Efficiency in all Client Touch Points. Clients want to see efficient (i.e., lower cost) agency processes and efficient communications from their agencies. Agencies must determine in advance how to work smoothly with clients for approvals, proofing and information transfer. This may involve customized forms, memos, etc., and a process for regular updates. Internal processes should also be clearly explained at the initial orientation meeting, so clients understand what the agency does, who does it, why it needs to be done, and how quickly each step can be completed. Define a clear chain-of-approval and make sure that both sides understand who is responsible for final approval at the client end of each project.
- An Experienced Service Team. Clients want people with successful resumes working their account. They want to know the team is your “best” and that they can hand assignments to your agency with confidence. The principal should be a part of the team, not necessarily on a day-by-day basis, but often enough that s/he remains visible to and accessible by client management, and knowledgeable about current projects.
- More Than They Asked For. Nothing cements a strong client relationship more effectively than delivering above expectations. Aim to do more than “satisfy” the client. Wherever possible, give them something they didn’t ask for—early delivery on a direct mail brochure, a “free” mini-report on an industry trend, wiping a few extra “overtime” hours from an invoice, etc. Make sure they know when you have given them something as a bonus. Don’t be so extravagant that you undercut agency profits, but offer enough that they greet your appearance with a smile.
Further, be their guide to more strategic planning. You can help clients think more strategically about all of their marketing efforts, especially about building and supporting their brand. Ask planning questions that will help them toward this mindset at the input stage of every project. Who is your audience? What is the primary objective? How does this relate to overall marketing strategy? This turns you from a vendor into a consultant, and reinforces your value.
- Earn Their Trust. The agency-client relationship must be based on honesty and trust to be successful. Always be professional, and never lie. Try to build a relationship that is direct, open and two-way. Most people respond to this style of doing business by returning the favor. When you have attained the status of trustworthy partner, DON’T SCREW IT UP!
Follow this account service approach for ALL agency clients, not just those paying the big bucks. Your reputation will grow through positive word of mouth, and the new clients you attract will help grow your agency.