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What Clients Want

January 31, 2018

Having spent the best part of 15 years as a client I can truthfully say that a great agency/client relationship is something that all parties strive to achieve but for whatever reason, and there are a host of possibilities, it frequently fails to occur.

How many times have I heard the “client is a nightmare” or the “agency doesn’t get us, they’re just creatives living in a different world”.  Too many times to count I’m afraid.  And the fault on balance lies at both doors.  The client is frequently busy and doesn’t give the agency the time they deserve to really get under the skin of the business and the agency, despite best intentions, doesn’t commit to really getting to know the client to move from a supplier to a valued partner and extension of the team.

Fortunately, I’ve had many fantastic relationships with agencies, but it has in truth taken time to develop.  Even the best agencies really understand just what it takes to be that valued partner without some extensive hand holding but it’s not really as difficult as it sounds if you stick to these 5 principles:

1.      Be personally and professionally invested in your client’s business – as a client your World revolves around that one brand.  Day in day out, month to month, year on year.  This makes them a true specialist but totally focussed on one brand story – theirs.  To be a great partner you need to be able to live and breathe that story too.  The best outcome is that you become an extension of them and their right-hand man.

2.      Really understand the client’s business – understand the issues the opportunities, the market in which they operate.  This means spending time with the client in their environment.  I don’t think I’ve ever turned away a partner who wants to work in our offices for a day to be able to get under the skin of the office dynamics.  It also means doing your homework – getting your hands on key documents, reading past work, internalizing what the brand and the business stands for.  Yes, sounds time consuming but it’s amazing how much more satisfying a project can be if you move beyond a fulfilment mindset

3.      Deliver a tailor-made level of service that fits with your client’s needs.  This is frequently cited in a sales pitch but rarely achieved.  Agencies will often have an approach and a way of working which has been developed over time.  A good approach by all accounts which has worked well for them in the past.  It’s just that in order to be a trusted partner a client needs something more flexible than that.  They don’t always need or want perfection, but they do want something which fits in with their schedule.  If it’s brilliant but delivered outside of the desired timeframe then the boat has long gone.  Be on the client’s wavelength, confirm what can and can’t be delivered and by when.  Stay in touch and get as fine-tuned as you can. 

4.      Be truthful.  If you can’t meet a timeline be honest.  This is tough, no doubt.  But if you say yes and then don’t deliver, the conversation will be much less comfortable on both sides.  At the end of the day, you’re partners and as such both sides should be honest and open.  Saying yes and driving your own team into the ground won’t help anyone, least of all you.  And as a client you shouldn’t want that either.  Being the bad client who doesn’t care about their agency will only ever lead to a compromise in results.  Yes, sounds idealist I hear you say.  And it is but nevertheless it’s absolutely fundamental to a good and long-lasting collaboration.

5.      Take your client on a journey with you.  It’s still the case that agencies like to do the big reveal and take massive pride in their proposed creation.  This is understandable – having spent hours pulling ideas together, the meeting represents the moment to be able to personally introduce your ideas.   This however can be fraught with difficulties on both sides – the client has their own ideas, the agency feels protective of theirs…  Staying in close contact during the creative process can avoid such a situation.  The client knows more about their business than you and therefore you rely on their knowledge to bring subtle nuances to the table.  These nuances can fundamentally make or break a situation and bring the entire client team on board or not as the case may be.  Your client is merely the representative of that business  but a good client should want you to win and help you to get there.  After all, if you win, they win.  It’s as simple as that.

To adhere to the 5 principles takes a very different mindset - A desire to step into the shoes of your client, to spend time investing in them.  It’s not a comfortable proposition for some – getting close is time consuming and requires you to “put yourself out there” emotionally and professionally.  It means breaking down the barrier between client and agency which many comfortably hide behind.  This doesn’t happen overnight but like any relationship it takes continuous work and commitment.

As a past client I can tell you that it is worth the effort