Client Relationships

Agency best practices — what to do when your client is stalled

Short of losing out on work, I'm not sure there's anything more frustrating then when a client is stalled on a project.  You know how it goes.  Client calls with their hair on fire.  You move heaven and earth to get the resources ready to help them solve their crisis and you're knee deep into the work when you get the call.  "We have to hold tight for a minute." Which of course, turned into 2 months. Or worse -- you don't get a call.  But you are waiting on something from the client (web content perhaps?) and you wait.  And wait.  But the client is stalled and not telling you. The worst part isn't the delay. It's that every day of the delay costs you money.  And it costs you even more money when they're ready to go again. You have to get your head back into the work, you have to go back and re-read the creative brief, and you often have to bring the team back together to get everyone back on track.  On top of all of that -- you need to shift work to accommodate the old project because when they come back -- they're always in a hurry to get it done. Ideally you can discourage clients from disrupting the flow of the work.  But even if you can't -- you shouldn't be penalized for a client not having their act together.  I get it.  Sometimes it's not your client but someone else inside their organization and sometimes, stuff just comes up.  But you know what -- you're running a business and it's tough to do that when clients behave in an unpredictable and unreasonable manner.  Which is what all [...]

Agency Best Practices: Cover your agency in case your client pulls the plug

One of the most annoying and expensive aspects of running an agency is when you do a lot of groundwork on a project and then the client pulls the plug before you've been paid. The phrase is actually an American idiom which originated in the 19th century.  Back in 19th century America, toilets had plugs so to flush a toilet, you needed to pull the plug. And that's sort of what it feels like when you get that call from the client, saying that something has changed and the project (or the project's budget) is going away.  You can almost see your profits going right down the toilet.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  Not if your contract/scope of work protects you. For most agencies, we invest a significant amount of time/energy on the front end of a project, knowing we'll recoup our time/costs by the time the work is complete.  That works great when there no complications.  But there's almost always a complication! There are some things you can do to protect your agency but the time to do them is before you start the work. First — be sure you are getting 50% of the project fee up front.  Build payment milestones by date, not by deliverable (otherwise, they can stall on approvals etc. to delay payment).  In addition, here’s some language you should consider incorporating into your contracts/scope of work documents: Most of the work we do on your behalf is front-loaded, which simply means we do the lion’s share of the work on the front end of the project and recoup that investment throughout the billing milestones. We know it would put a strain on your budget to require you to [...]

Hey agency owner – have you defined your values, mission and vision?

You help your clients do it every day but have you defined your values, mission and vision? As you preach to clients, it’s vital to every business that they have a clear idea of who they are and what they’re all about. Usually the owner has some vague (or maybe very defined) vision for their organization but few have taken the time to distill it down or made the effort to weave it into the fabric of the company. Many people confuse mission and vision. Here’s how I define and distinguish between the three elements. Mission -- what you do best every day Vision – what the future is like because you do what you do best every day Values – guiding principles/beliefs In an environment like an agency – each of these is critical. If you’ve already done this work – revisit it to make sure it’s still on target and meets the following criteria: Are you mission and vision statements a single sentence? Are you values short enough that everyone on your team could memorize and recite them? Are all three components written in common, easy to understand language? Are they unique to you? Could any agency claim the exact same set? Are they all from the client’s/an outside perspective? Remember this is how you want others to see you. As you know, because you probably guide clients through this process, it’s deceivingly difficult. If you haven’t done this or you think the work you’ve done could use a refresh – do it right. Investing in defining your values, mission and vision is one of those important but not urgent quadrant activities that will change the future of your agency. Carve out some [...]

The Importance of Chemistry in Business with Bob Sanders

What do CMOs and other decision makers say is the final decision point when it comes to hiring an agency? Chemistry. Many agencies believe that chemistry is not really in their control but actually, there are definitely some things you can do to connect at that level. In a recent podcast, I had a conversation with Bob Sanders from the Sanders Consulting Group and we talked about the importance of chemistry in business, the influence you can have to make your new business meetings more productive, close faster and with much more success, every single time. Bob and his team focus on creating chemistry with a prospect that can help you walk into that new business process in a better position. In this podcast, Bob will unlock the secrets of chemistry by showing you: how to understand yourself, your agency and then figure out how to relate to others how to build a concrete system that drives new business and generates leads how to use clear-cut methods for a productive first meeting with new clients that lead to the next meeting the simple things you can do each day to achieve your goals how to adjust your relationships to match your client’s personalities. Bob Sanders is a powerhouse in the marketing industry. He has previously worked with Agency Management Group, a firm that specialized in the operations, finance, and technology consultations for multinational agencies around the world. Since then, he has become the leader of Sanders Consulting Group, a leading consulting firm specializing in helping agencies implement best practices faster and more effectively. To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site ( and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or [...]

Effectively Managing the Client-Agency Relationship with Scott Monty

As an agency owner you know how valuable effectively managing the client-agency relationship is. But it's getting tougher every day, as clients choose to work with multiple agencies and push for measurable metrics that proof that they money they invest with you is turning into leads and sales. So how do you earn that loyalty with your clients? That's part of the conversation I had on my podcast, Build a Better Agency, with Scott Monty, from Scott Monty Strategies, who used to be Ford Motor Company's Global Digital & Multimedia Communications Manager. Along with how you go about managing these relationships with your clients, Scott talked about his days at Ford and how he dealt with his multiple agencies and how they did/did not earn his trust and loyalty. We also dug into how agencies can bring a different level of digital strategy to their clients and where professionals can look for strategic inspiration. You'll love his candor and his hard-earned client side advice. To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site ( and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web. If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below. If you're going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn't you get the benefits, too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan. Drew: Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning in to another episode [...]

Hey Agency Owner — how do you keep your creatives on target?

An ad agency creative brief is one way to get your creatives to stay on target when they may be struggling. In today's digital, data driven agency environment -- many agencies struggle to keep their creatives on target. We're evolving from the Mad Men era where creative was king to a time when results, ROI and metrics are the sexy way that we bring in clients and billings. So, given the environment and the fact that your creative team is probably feeling a little displaced -- how do you keep your creatives on target? An ad agency creative brief is one way to get the ball rolling. First let me say this -- many creative professionals in the agency business get it.  They understand that their job is to help the client's cash register ring and that creative for awards, for pride or for cool just doesn't cut it.  But even the best of them can get off target.  To be fair -- sometimes the creatives aren't on target because the account team set them up to fail. Bad (or no) creative briefs Unreasonable timelines Unclear deliverables, details or wishy washy facts Regardless of the specifics -- it's incredibly costly (time, money and morale) to have the creative team work hard on something only to have the account team say it's so off target that we can't show the client. Ideally the entire agency should be constantly screening work as it evolves to make sure it's on strategy and going to be well received by the client.  It doesn't mean they have to buy it -- but they do have to feel like their money was well spent when they pay you for the development. No matter [...]

Hey agency owner – do you REALLY act like a partner?

Building client relationships is vital to the success of any agency -- but -- this doesn’t necessarily mean agencies always treat their clients in such a way that the agency is regarded as a partner in the client’s business. I hang out with agency owners all the time and over and over I hear them say "I want clients who treat us like partners, not vendors." This sentence is usually uttered in the context of the good old days versus running an agency today.  I don't disagree at all -- every agency should be treated like their clients' partner.  They should be marching in step towards the client's business goals.  But I find myself asking these same agency owners -- "okay, but do you really act like a partner?" In building client relationships, I think we have to be careful about what we wish for. I'm not suggesting for a second that it's not a worthy goal.  But you have to be worthy of the title.  Partnership is a two way street, so you can't just get the goodies without doing your fair share. Here are some best practices if you actually want to be your client's partner. Know their business: Not just the marketing side of their business -- but understand it like you're running it. Learn about their distribution challenges.  Look for ways their sales system could be improved. Offer to walk the production floor so you can see the actual manufacturing process.  Get your hands dirty along side them and add value with your observations on the whole of their business, not just their marketing. Be transparent with your pricing: However you are choosing to be compensated -- are you being 100% transparent about it? [...]

Hey agency owner — it’s time to learn how to share the sandbox and work with other agencies

Building client relationships and working with other agencies can be challenging, but it is vital for your agency’s long-term success. In fact, one of the agency/client trends that is toughest for most small to mid-sized agencies is learning how to and accepting the idea that you’re going to have to work with other agencies.  The whole agency of record model is crumbling and more and more clients are telling the marketplace that they prefer to work with multiple agencies. When AMI partnered with Audience Audit last fall to do some primary research with CMO types, one of the things that popped off the page was how prevalent this attitude is.  Many of our respondents worked with 3+ agencies and thought they were better off for doing so. The reasons they opted for multiple agencies varied but the predominant message was — “no one agency can be excellent at everything. We would prefer to buy subject matter expertise across agencies.” The other thing the respondents told us is that they hate it when agencies bicker and try to throw each other under the bus.  They end up distrusting and often firing the bigger whiner among the agencies.  (You can download the research report here) Who comes out on top?  The agency who finds a way to work well with the others.  The agency who busts a hump to coordinate their efforts and actually recognizes what the other agencies are good at and takes full advantage of those talents. Why?  Because then you are actually building client relationships. You are doing what’s best for the client, rather than worrying about the lost billable hours.  Because then you are acknowledging other agencies has something to contribute.  Because then you are [...]

Hey Agency Owner — How do you keep your clients from shopping around?

In an age where it seems like there is a marketing person on every corner and anyone can set up shop on the internet, how do you keep your clients from shopping around? As the industry has shifted from traditional ongoing advertising to project based work, and from long term contracts to short term agreements, the agency/client relationship has also changed.  How are you proving the value of both what your agency can offer as well as the importance of the client relationship itself to your client? I wrote the following article for The Agency Post to explore the important elements of the agency/client relationship.  Which can you strengthen?  Which are you missing out on altogether?  How can you build and maintain trust with your clients so that you, not the internet, are the first place to go to for the help they need? You can read the article here and I’d love to hear what you thought.