How could I not attend a conference session called “how to avoid a break-up?” Although it was billed as 10 tips for making the agency/client relationship last for the long-term, speakers David McCulloch of Cisco and Rowan Benecke, from Cisco’s agency Text 100, actually gave us 15.
Sessions like these are great reinforcements for what you already know (or should know) so although I didn’t necessarily learn anything new, I loved the fact that client and agency representatives were there together, presenting both sides of the issue. So here’s what they had to say (with a little editorializing by me).
- Set clear goals… Obviously, right? But make sure both sides agree on what the goals are. Nothing worse than coming to the end of project to find out you were not in sync.
- Don’t get complacent…the beauty of long-term clients is you get very comfortable with each other. And although it is a good thing to be connected with your client, don’t let that connection get in the way of providing good service.
- Share information freely…this was tackled by both David and Rowan. Your agency is only as good as the information that is given to them, so loop them in early and often. But the same goes for the agency back to the client. A good working relationship means you share information – good, bad or ugly – as soon as you know it. A client does not like to be surprised.
- Sweat the small stuff …dot the I’s and cross the T’s. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but to the client, even the small stuff is important. Better to be safe than sorry.
- Don’t let clients get away with murder, it is ok to say no as long as you offer an alternate plan…this one is a hard one. We want to be there for our clients and saying no doesn’t come easy. But as much as we in the agency business think we are miracle workers (and sometimes we are), we have to get better at managing expectations and offering suggestions on how better to handle a project.
- Less sticks, more carrots…everyone likes to be appreciated, so say thank you.
- Know that your client may be handling more than just the public relations function…important to recognize that we may be a small part of our client’s line of responsibility and it is possible that they are not as well-versed in what we do or how we do it as we’d like. After all, that may be the primary reason we’ve been hired. Try to understand a little more about what their jobs entail.
- “That river in Egypt called ‘de-nial’”…don’t ignore the warning signs. Slower than usual to return a call, emails going unanswered? Your client is telling you something so speak up and find out what it is.
- Measure what matters, not what you did…that goes back to #1 about setting clear goals.
- Become each other’s partner…get feedback from each other. The agency is likely to ask for feedback from the client on how they are performing, but consider asking the agency for feedback on how the client is performing. If there are a variety of folks on both sides working together, it would be helpful to have that information.
- Arms and legs…sometimes the primary reason an agency is hired is to be the “arms and legs” for the client. That’s ok as a start, use the opportunity to gain their trust and you’ll get to the “hearts and minds” part soon enough.
- Revolving door…hardest part of a client relationship is when you have to tell them that their beloved account person is moving on. It happens and the client will understand it, IF they have the opportunity to develop relationships with others on your team.
- Breakdown of trust…both sides of this discussion weighed in on the subject of trust. From Rowan’s perspective, he wants to know right away if something isn’t right. It is so much easier to deal with it if it can be discussed openly and honestly as soon as an issue presents itself. David echoed that thought, “let me know as soon as possible, no matter how bad it might be.”
- Don’t be an order-taker or “do you want fries with that?”…if you want to be more than “arms and legs” to your client be sure to be available and offer suggestions when appropriate. But there will still be times when you are just going to do what has been asked of you.
- Spice things up…always show each other that you love them and appreciate them. A handwritten thank you note, a call on their birthday or remembering an important date go a long way to solidify the relationship on both sides.
At the conclusion of the talk, they surveyed the audience, which was weighted a little more in favor of the agency side, but a few clients voted as well…which ones of the 15 listed above are most important?
Agencies: Clear Goals and Become Each Other’s Partners
Clients: Sweat the Small Stuff and Honest Feedback
I contend that both sides are saying basically the same thing --- we’re in this together.