Be honest. If I ask you to quantify your relationship with your longest-held client account, which of the following would best describe your working relationship?
1. You do the same projects every year, on the same schedule. Your routine is predictable. So is your creative. Your client sees no compelling business reason to shake things up, and you are not proactive about suggesting new marketing strategies. You are in a rut, but stable.
2. Your project list is erratic at best, and different every year. Your interpersonal relations are bumpy, very push-and-pull. The client goes off on marketing tangents, frequently ignoring agreed-upon strategies and chasing after newly announced goals. You are reactive rather than guiding the marketing process. Results are hit or miss.
3. Your client invites you to sit at their planning table. You know their business and challenges, and offer new ideas to take advantage of opportunities. The client welcomes recommendations and trusts you as a strategic partner. They bow to your advice about pushing the creative envelope where appropriate, and you produce award-winning creative that delivers measurable results.
Most of you won’t identify the third situation as matching your own… although most of you aspire to be that agency and have that kind of client. Many of you will fall in the gray areas in between these three positions—some good times, some successes, but not as successful or rewarding as you and your clients might prefer. So how do you get from where you are (safe and stable but a little pedestrian; or unstable and reactive, with equally uneven creative) to where you want to be in your client relationships?
Every Client Is a Prospect
It is important not to think of clients as old-hat or agency bread-and-butter. They deserve better from you, especially those who have stuck with you longer than those other more creative but fly-by-night accounts that leave as quickly as they arrive.
Stop thinking of your long-held accounts as “yours.” Think of them as new business prospects worthy of your time and effort to sell them that next big idea. Partnerships go stale; it is a fact of life. But they go stale because we allow it to happen. Like a good marriage, an agency-client relationship is most successful when both partners strive to make it work every day. Commitment is key from both sides of the arrangement. So is an understanding that you must continually feed “the romance” of that partnership to sustain it.
Freshen Up the Relationship
Bring surprise and romance back into your relationships. On your next project, don’t just do the same thing you do every year. Examine the project critically and explore whether the project would benefit from additional media, whether it should be cross-purposed for the Web, if it can be used to reach a new audience, etc. Put together a soundly reasoned proposal and present it like a new business pitch. Give them options. Get them excited about trying something new. Make it measurable. You may be surprised to learn that they’ve been feeling a bit under-appreciated (and under-served), and that they will welcome the more proactive approach.
Try “restarting” all of your account relationships. Get smart about each account’s business, industry, products and challenges. Look at the channel and their customers. Look for places where you can offer help.
By ceasing to take your clients for granted, you encourage them to do the same in return. Then pack for that second honeymoon.