Top Ten Qualities of a Great Client

We hope that you will find the following article to be helpful. If, after reading, you would like to explore our thought leadership on a deeper level, please contact Kerry Kielb at  TBG consultants have typically spent years working on both agency and client teams before consulting with both.  As a result, we’ve learned a lot of important lessons and have been fortunate to witness the development of business changing work that results from a strong, mutually respectful relationship. One truth that we consistently learn from agencies is that “clients get the work they deserve.”  That may be a bit harsh, but let’s face it, great agencies get to choose with whom they partner and great clients may do the same.  Further, great agency talent gets to choose the “plum” assignments on which they spend their very valuable time.  Not always are these assignments determined by budget size alone but are considered “plum” if the client DNA is one of fairness, respect and collaboration. At TBG, we have identified a few more distinguishing qualities of great clients that consistently elicit the best work, regardless of discipline or channel.  It is these traits that drive agencies to pull out all the stops and continually surprise and delight in a way that not only moves relationship assessment scores, but also drives business.
  1. Instill a spirit of partnership. This is core to the success of the relationship. If you have a tendency to treat the agency as a subordinate or worse, a vendor, you might be well advised to change your modus operandi.  In truth, clients often need agencies even more than agencies need them.  So, it is critical to keep your relationship in perspective and avoid perpetuating a fear of dismissal or disrespect.  After all, as one of my colleagues has said, “The best advertising can only be created in the absence of fear.”
  1. Be wary of copycatting or changing strategies just for change sake. Imitating a trend fails by definition to achieve the first purpose of advertising:  to create a distinctive image for a client.  The most successful brands are those that find a long-term positioning and stick with it.  Of course, you have to keep tabs on how your consumer is changing and address your approach to stay relevant.  But, forcing your agency to do something just because “everyone else is doing it” will not only demotivate them, it will discourage the kind of innovative thinking that you need.
  1. Make sure your agency is making a fair profit. Remember there is no such thing as Free. Agencies deserve to make money as much as you or your company.  Cutting fees and scope with no good reason is a race to the bottom for both the relationship and the brand.  Of course, everyone has to face budget cuts at some point and you will have to decide what to give up.  If you have a strong, productive relationship with your agency, they should be able to help you figure out where it makes the most sense to cut without losing momentum, whether it is internal or external expenses.
  1. Give the agency the opportunity to be totally absorbed in your product, the people and your culture. Your brand’s distinctiveness is wrapped around the people who create and manage it. Allowing your agency to become “part of the family” is critical to ensuring they convey the uniqueness of your brand to your target audiences in a lasting and sustainable way.
  1. Create an environment of experimentation, but be prepared to pay for failure. Nothing predicts mediocrity in advertising quite so precisely as an environment of risk-aversion. Peter Drucker, the grandfather of business consulting once said “Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”  While it can sometimes be expensive to test new ideas, the payout from the ones that work typically makes the investment worth your while.  And, by creating a culture of acceptance with your agency, they will be driven to bring fresh perspective about your brand and new and novel go-to-market strategies.  Isn’t that why you have an agency anyway?
  1. Agree on a clearly defined objective of the advertising you wish to create. The failure to define or agree upon the precise purpose of the assignment dooms the creative process from the start. Your brief should be just that, short and to the point – a definition of why you are asking the agency to complete this assignment and enough background information to get their wheels turning.  When the metric for success is clear at the beginning, you save a lot of time in reworks and do-overs because approval is determined by a well-supported answer to one simple question: Will the work meet the objective?
  1. Keep disapprovals kind. Of course, creative is subjective and sometimes, it just doesn’t “feel right.” But bad feedback can slowly kill both the creative team’s motivation along with your budget and timeline.  Instead, remember these three simple axioms:
  • Be honest. If you don’t like something say so.
  • Be specific but not prescriptive. Don’t ask for a new execution just because this “one doesn’t do it for me.” Great clients state precisely why they disagree and then challenge the agency to find a solution that everyone can get behind.
  • Be sensitive. It helps to think of feedback as if you are evaluating the person.
  1. Keep approvals simple. Nothing saps energy more than an agency presenting the same work over and over at successive layers of the client organization.  Have a clear and simple approval process even if that means exposing the work up the chain before you’ve had a chance to get comfortable with it.  Remember that you are part of a team with your agency and, as long as it meets the brief which has been approved by leadership, you should feel comfortable sharing it sooner rather than later. Plus, it helps reduce the cost of expensive re-dos if you need feedback more quickly.
  1. Make the agency responsible for the advertising and give them the authority they need to develop it. Involvement in the development process is an exceedingly difficult line to walk.  Often, lack of involvement is just a way for a client to avoid sharing responsibility for the end result.  On the other hand, too much involvement compromises the agency’s ability to realize its vision; get a sense of balance.  Follow your agency’s lead on when you should get involved so as not to disrupt their process but be sure it’s not so far down the path that it will be difficult to influence change.
  2. Perform relationship assessments at least annually, and more often in the beginning of the relationship. You would never consider eliminating performance reviews of an employee at least once a year – the same rules should apply for your agency.  Your assessment should never be one sided as that does not tell the whole picture.  Instead, be proactive with 360 degree evaluations from both client and agency.  It is critical that action planning be built into the assessment process or it will quickly become a cost vs an investment in the long term health of the relationship.
In summary, agencies can represent many things to marketing leadership – fresh thinking, partners in business building, excellent negotiators, measurement gurus, data miners.    But, like any member of your internal team, they must be empowered and motivated to apply their very best talents to your business.  Clients who exhibit the qualities above will maximize the value gained from their agency because they will mean more to the Agency than just a fee, they will represent an opportunity to succeed.

About The Bedford Group

The Bedford Group is an Atlanta based Marketing Management Consulting firm that has been in operation since 1986. It has built its reputation on marketing organization support, agency search and relationship management and strategic marketing consulting.  Unlike traditional advertising consultants, The Bedford Group looks beyond traditional marketing disciplines to solve complex, enterprise-wide issues for efficient resource management and improving marketing ROI.

Jane Bedford
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