As you work with your clients to set up annual advertising and marketing planning, there’s one thought that should remain lodged in your frontal cortex: “It’s not my plan, it’s their plan.” You may indeed be creating the ideas that support the plan, the business strategies that drive marketing, and the multi-faceted ad campaign to increase sales… but it’s still their plan. The more your agency is running the marketing “show,” the more critical it is to get the client involved. Because they’ve paid for it, they own it, and they need to feel that way.
Agency, Partner, Client Advocate
Think of this as an adjunct to the creative process. As agency people, we’re all involved in the creative process directly or indirectly. It’s what we do. But our next-most-important job is convincing the client that to set the process in motion, they need to get right in there and take ownership. Everything you do should focus around immersing your client in the planning process, because that’s the one sure way that they will get behind the plan and help make it work, every step of the way. That means that all stages of the planning process need full collaboration between agency and client personnel. The more the client is involved in creating the plan, the more they will feel ownership of the final product, and support the plan roll-out and execution.
Send the Right Message
Involving clients in the planning process ideally begins the first time you meet a prospective client. Let them know this is the way you do business, and show them the positive examples and results of your involvement in other client marketing processes and projects. Remember to stress up front during initial “how we will work together” meetings that you let clients take the lead in the decision-making process. This is so critical. We all know that clients do not want to be dictated to. But these days, agencies really have to be on their toes. Even presenting a hint of that old “we’re the agency, and we’re here to rescue you from your world of marketing ignorance” attitude can cause relationship problems.
Take the Proper Role
Think about it: positioning your agency as a rescue service places the client in terms of being in distress—an entity that needs to be rescued. It’s not a positive connotation (unless they are truly desperate). Instead, position your agency as a friendly advocate and guide, ready to listen and offer positive, constructive solutions. The insights you bring to the planning process serve as strategic markers that can steer marketing planning in new and profitable directions… but the client should remain behind the wheel. By taking this position, you give them control, but you put yourself in charge of creating and directing important policy.
And Stay “On Message”
Take another cue from the political sphere, and stay on message. Remember that your agency-client relationship impacts every person in the client’s organization, and they will look for communication about the marketing plan. This communication should be a collaborative effort, with client management encouraging buy-in from the troops. The plan should be promoted as “Client X’s Marketing Plan,” not “Agency X’s Marketing Plan for Client X.” This implies client ownership of the plan (and makes it less likely your agency will become the fall guy if the client organization fails to work the plan).
Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.
Finally, ensure that communication of marketing plans is clear and consistent. Make goals and objectives realistic and quantified. People require transparency to do their jobs properly, and the more they know, the more they can participate in making the plan succeed.
Make every effort to instill a sense of client ownership of the plan. The collaborative process bonds your agency more closely to the client, and contributes to the plan’s ultimate success.