by Alistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) There’s nothing better than trust from clients. We all know that most clients have a lower threshold for risk than their creative partners. When clients trust your opinion and judgment, they let you decide what great creative looks like. They let you do brave work, and they follow your lead when it comes to proactive work.

Key ingredients

In advertising, the key ingredients to gaining client trust include being faithful and sincere when dealing with clients, as well as always proactively anticipating and providing for clients’ needs.

3d Image Honesty Concept in Word Tag Cloud on White Background by David Castillo Dominici courtesy of
Image by David Castillo Dominici courtesy of

Being faithful and sincere means:

  • Charging clients fairly
  • Being honest about lead times
  • Not handling conflicting clients
  • Doing an honest day’s work
  • Treating clients with respect

Doing the above results in trust and love from our clients. Anticipating client needs’ means:

  • Asking the right questions ahead of time
  • Proactively solving clients problems instead of waiting for a brief
  • Always thinking long-term instead of focusing on the “now”
  • Having a bottom drawer full of ideas

A really good understanding

To be able to anticipate clients’ needs, you must have a really good understanding of their businesses and the categories in which they operate. You need to understand their business issues in totality, and not just their marketing and communications challenges.

I’m a big fan of agency-generated briefs or even co-created ones. The days of agencies sitting patiently waiting for briefs from clients are long gone. Clients expect us to get on with the business of solving their issues.

The reason you hire domestic help for your home is for the helper to take the away burden of cleaning the house, doing the laundry and cooking. In the beginning you might provide detailed and prescriptive instructions to her about what you want but, with time, you expect her to know what you want and how you want it. That means you eventually expect your helper to take the initiative and use her knowledge of you to anticipate your needs.

Guilty of waiting for briefs

It’s the same with agencies. Clients do not want to brief us at every turn. We should know their business well enough to propose proactive solutions that, firstly, solve business problems and, secondly, bring us fame as agencies.

Many of us are guilty of waiting for briefs instead of being proactive. And when we do decide to supply proactive ideas, they are positioned as opportunities to win awards, as opposed to business solutions that have huge creative potential. A subtle but important difference.

I think it’s important to realise that brands outlive the people who take care of them. Ours is to take good care of them and pass the baton onto the next brand custodians. We must think long term. Memory structures are built through consistency and patience.

Long-term brand strategy

As agencies, we have to insist upon clients providing us with a long-term brand strategy and, in return, we must develop long-term communications strategies so that we achieve consistency long after we are gone.

We need to get into the habit of leveraging our creative energy and momentum to develop a large number of creative ideas for the bottom drawer. We, together with our clients, are guilty of getting tired of ideas long before consumers do. We need to avoid this.

We need to let ideas live for long and plan for the proceeding phases now. Instead of waiting for the next brief, we should come up with the ideas now and bank them for future use. It’s infinitely easier and safer to tweak these ideas at a later stage than to conceptualise new ideas later.

Two main benefits

There are two main benefits to having a bottom drawer full of ideas. First, it helps you achieve consistency in that these creative ideas will be based upon the same strategic platform. Secondly, you will free up your studio to work on other jobs, spend time crafting their work, spend time gathering inspiration or spend time reflecting upon learnings. This way, you will always be prepared for your client.

Winston Churchill spent the majority of his time preparing for impromptu speeches. We need to do the same. We know what the scope of work looks like. Let’s gear up for it so we can delight and surprise our clients with solutions before they ask for them. This approach, in my view, will bring us success.

After all, fortune favours the prepared.


Alistair Mokoena November 2014

Alistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) — a Unilever-trained Chartered Marketer with lots of blue-chip marketing experience — joined Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg as MD in January 2015). Formerly, he was MD of FCB Joburg. One of his favourite pastimes is driving around in the bush, photographing wild animals. Alistair, who switched from client- to agency side at the end of 2012, contributes the monthly “The Switch” column, covering relationships inside agencies and between agencies and clients, to


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