Adnalysis: Never stop courting your clients — especially after the win
by Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) Advertising is a funny game. The ad industry’s appetite for new clients is insatiable, and every pitch process begets another. With every client or pitch win, the hunger for more intensifies —more clients, more wins, and more of everything — the cycle just never ends.
But what’s the opportunity cost of constantly looking for new clients? Client/agency relationships are no different to those of humans. If you’re in a committed relationship and you continue to pursue other people, you’ll inevitably end up faltering in your commitment. You start paying more attention and putting more resources behind the new pursuit, neglecting what you already have.
This is neither to suggest nor recommend that an ad agency needs to have a single client but rather that there’s a unique threshold for each agency. This threshold is a point where having more clients actually does more harm or damage than having fewer clients.
Sometimes, this is easy to spot and sometimes it isn’t. I can’t say when is it reached but, when you’ve reached it, you’ll know.
In order to identify when an agency has reached its threshold, it needs to be self-aware. Self-awareness allows you to identify characteristics that may indicate that you’ve probably bitten off more than you can chew. In no particular order, here are the signs:
- It may be when clients’ frustrations become evident and consistent
- When the agency culture deteriorates (if you have a culture to begin with)
- The happiness barometer is down
- The quality of work is weak (sometimes the quality of work is impeccable but employee satisfaction and happiness levels are low)
- Less time and resources are being allocated to existing clients (and clients do feel when they are starting to be neglected
- Senior employees are being redeployed to new clients, and old clients are left to deal with the junior staff (this happens)
In the pursuit of new clients, prospective clients take priority and existing clients get neglected. Yes, briefs will be taken into the system and work will be executed, but the intimacy depreciates.
As an agency, you need to check yourself. You need to constantly audit the quality of the relationships you have with your current clients.
Talent and creativity are ubiquitous and highly accessible but genuine and authentic feelings of connection aren’t
These days, the market place for talent is extremely competitive. An ad agency may no longer claim creativity to be the single most-important variable that makes it different. Talent is easily accessible; clients are experimenting with consulting agencies and outsourced specialised creative talent; and this means that clients now have options. So what is the single most-important thing that agencies have control over? It’s how clients feel about them.
How to ensure that staid agency/client relationships always feel brand-new
Maintaining existing relationships is critical for ensuring intimate, fun and long-term partnerships. Here are six actionable steps that an ad agency may implement in order to keep the fire burning between itself, client and a matured relationship:
- Don’t let your relationships be run via Outlook and Chase — meet clients not just for scheduled meetings and briefings but also for friendships (the best romantic relationships are predicated on great friendships — the same is true for professional relationships). Just because there’s no scheduled meeting, it doesn’t mean that you can’t see your client
- Introduce all your staff members to all clients. (Make sure every person in your agency knows who the client is exactly — it sometimes amazes me that people in an agency may do work for a client for years on end, and still not know who exactly they do work for — it’s ludicrous)
- Be concerned about your client’s entire value chain, not just the aspect that’s relevant to you (sales, customer service, production, manufacturing, etc — all of these have an impact on your communications efforts, so show interest and the client will be interested in you)
- Encourage client to visit your agency premises often, and reciprocate by visiting its offices often
- Don’t just be quick to bill client for mediocre work but be quick to offer practical solutions that work and be helpful
- Constantly ask client: “How are we doing so far and where can we improve?” This will let the client know that the relationship is not just transactional but there’s genuine concern and authentic interest
- If there’s a team dedicated to a particular brand, there’s absolutely no reason why team members shouldn’t be able to work from client’s premises from time to time
Retainers aren’t enough
‘Retainers’ aren’t enough to secure relationships. Most agencies think that having one with a client is in itself is a signifier of a strong relationship, but it isn’t. Retainers just mean secured income for a specific period; they don’t mean that clients are tied down to your agency.
Remember, you are not the only pursuer; clients are constantly and consistently being approach by other suppliers. If you and your client aren’t intimate, just transactional, you’ll inevitably lose. Whether your client is retainer or project-based, you have to keep pursuing your client by showing interest at all times.
In today’s commoditised world of creativity, your biggest asset, value proposition or differentiator is not the latest technology, but affection — how intimate are you with your client?
Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) truly believes that advertising can really change the world. Every single day he tries to prove this. He shares his thoughts on the industry and sometimes has unconventional views. Bogosi is a committee member of AMASA, an Advisory Council member and guest speaker at Vega, and also does speaker management at TEDxJohannesburg. He is currently a strategic planner at The Creative Counsel. He contributes the new monthly column, “Adnalysis”, which analyses adland from a strategist’s viewpoint, to MarkLives.com.