When It’s Your Job to Educate a New Client (And Their In-House Team)

In Forums, a member asked about how to “educate” a new client that has never previously worked with an ad agency. The client currently has an in-house marketing group who are resistant to working with the agency. We shared assorted content from our archives, including our Client Onboarding Powerpack. But we’d also like to share some additional thoughts about working with a client’s in-house team.

Building Trust

It’s important to ask smart questions that both clarify what they need from you, and assure the in-house staff that you are there to assist them, not boss them around. Examples:

  • Have you a current marketing plan and any specific goals? Have you prioritized those goals in order of importance?
  • Are you currently working on any these goals? Can you give us a progress report? Where can we help you with that goal?
  • Which goals are you struggling with the most? May we take a look at that and make suggestions?
  • Might we suggest analyzing the effectiveness of the tactics you are currently using, to see if we can help you boost effectiveness?
  • Are there tasks assigned to you that you don’t feel you have the expertise to do well? Can we help with some of those tasks?
  • Are there initiatives you think would be valuable, but you haven’t been able to get approved? Can we look at those and perhaps help build positive perceptions using our research and analytics capabilities?

And so on. Spoon-feed your expertise to the client’s in-house group, and share insights where you see the opportunity. Also look for ways to make the in-house staff look good to their superiors. Building trust is essential. Work to build open communications and strong relationships with the client’s in-house people. Hold joint brainstorming sessions, and promote the in-house team when you use one of their ideas.

Ideally, you would aim to do more “big picture” planning and coordination, and not be trying to take smaller jobs from in-house staff. (There’s no money in the little jobs anyway.) Make every effort to include in-house staff in planning and big picture decisions; at least try to keep them in the loop whenever marketing efforts are approved that may relate to in-house-managed projects.

If pushback from in-house staff continues, you may need to step back and try to work through your primary contact; let them run interference for you. If the marketing hierarchy isn’t designed to do that, double down on efforts to make friends and build trust. 

When Management Is the Problem

If the problem is not the in-house design group, but a desire of middle management to defend their turf from the outside agency, focus trust-building efforts on management people and try to break down those barriers. Emphasize that strong collaboration between the agency and the client’s in-house group is essential to ensuring or boosting program success. Your agency needs to coordinate with the in-house team to support agency efforts, and the in-house team needs to stay informed about your efforts so their projects can benefit from aligned messaging.

Set a time limit for how much energy and emotion you are prepared to invest to win over the client’s in-house marketing people. As another agency principal said in reply to our Forums post, you are doing the heavy lifting of educating them in how to work with an agency, and the long-term payoff may not be worth the effort; some other, future agency may eventually enjoy the respect and appreciation you are having to teach the in-house group.

Keep hunting for other new business as you try to “break in” the new client and their team. And use the opportunity to craft some strong connections within the client company. Handle your interaction with class and professionalism. What you build now can become a foundation for future projects or a full-service relationship.

Note: RSW/US’ latest Agency New Business Survey Report found that 61 percent of agencies now must collaborate with some clients’ in-house agencies. An ability to work with in-house teams is becoming a key factor in agency-client relationships.


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