My Three Cents

In the world of professional services, there are two fundamental actors:  the service firm and the client.  This is true whether it is a law firm, architectural firm, public relations firm or advertising agency.  One would think—with only two constituents—that getting along and doing right by the client would be a snap.

The reality is that “the client” could be a worldwide organization with many moving parts, and the firm or agency could also have multiple parts serving the client:  social media, branding, advertising, e-commerce, etc.  All need to be coordinated and in lockstep.

And that is where the issue comes in.  With so many moving parts on both sides, politics can develop and issues can arise, on both sides, which complicate the relationship.  For example, an unintended comment can be blown out of proportion and stop things dead in their tracks.  Advertising or public relations copy could be sent to the client without each department serving the client signing off on it; thereby, a nuance could be missed.  Often these things can happen even when there is an engagement leader coordinating everything on the agency side.  And they can happen even when the client is a one-person operation.

This potentially complex course can often end in clients firing their agencies.   And yet that is the last thing that anyone in either sphere wants to have happen.  Thus, understanding the needs of the client and delivering on those needs is why some agencies last for decades, and those that don’t may fold fast. 

The topic has always interested me, which is why I was talking about it with Steve Trygg, a successful entrepreneur, who founded Anderson & Lembke, the largest B2B advertising agency in the US prior to its sale. Today, Steve serves as chairman of the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce – New York.

Steve told me about a survey he undertook which asked clients what they most wanted from their agencies; this is what they said (in order):

#1:       Don’t make me look bad.

#2:       Let me be part of your team.

#3        Make me look good.

#4        Help me realize my goals.

Steve called the results, “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Clients.”  I’d like to make a few comments on these points. 

You might ask how a firm makes a client look bad.  Non-performance is certainly one way.  Going over the client’s head is another.  So is not following through on something of importance to the client that is critical to the client’s relationship with his boss.  All of these actions or omissions relate to the client realizing his or her goals, which may impact his or her relationship with the boss.

The best client relationships I have experienced over the years are those in which the agency and the client are a team.  You brainstorm together. Problems and hurdles in execution are openly discussed and solved without fear of reprisal. Successes are shared as “ours.”  Overall, a wonderful chemistry exists enabling a long relationship. 

When a client retains a new agency, the agency must understand what the client goals are; ask for them.  Discuss actions with the CEO and the rest of the client that are critical to meeting the CEO’s goals.  An agency’s consciousness of these goals can make a major difference; this element is often overlooked by agencies.

If you are on the right side of the above points, you undoubtedly will make the client look good.

To the four points above, I would add point #5, or even make it a new point #1.  What is it?  “Keep your promises!”  That ranked number one in a client survey Makovsky conducted.  It may be as simple as calling a client at 10:00 AM, as you promised you would, rather than calling at 10:10.  Who knows how that ten minutes might impact a client’s schedule on a particularly tightly booked day!

thought leadership


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