This article discusses client retention strategies, and explains what clients are truly looking for from their ad agency.

In our AE training (both the bootcamp and the Account Service Advanced Training) we ask the participants to make a list of what they think their clients want from their advertising agency. It’s a rare AE that thinks to actually ask their clients what they’re looking for from their agency or agency liaison. But the answers often reveal that disconnect.

When we asked CMOs, business owners and Directors of Marketing what they were looking for from their agencies, here’s what they said:

Industry knowledge
Clients expect their advertising agencies to either come to them with a deep level of expertise in the client’s business/industry or else, get up to speed in a hurry. Even more so — they expect the agency to stay current and to make sure the client does too.

It’s pretty difficult to bring proactive ideas and solutions to the table if you don’t know the game that’s being played.

Business Acumen
In today’s world, marketing touches every aspect of a client’s business. Clients expect their agency to understand their entire business model from R&D to distribution. They need someone at the table who can recognize and solve business problems.

Clients need their agency to do what they say they’re going to do. That means bringing projects in on time and on budget. It means owning a problem until it gets resolved. It also means the flip side — clients want an agency to hold them accountable too. They need to be nudged now and then to keep their eye on the ball and do their part in making the work a success.

This is a big one that may even be more essential than all of these other client retention strategies. There’s no such thing as M-F, 9-5 anymore. Thanks to tablets, smart phones and everyone trying to do more with fewer people and just one step faster — clients are working longer hours, into the weekends and through all time zones. Clients appreciate the need for their agency cohorts to have a private life and most won’t be too intrusive. But when they need to get a hold of you now, they mean now.

It may be unpopular to say/admit — but clients expect their agency staff to check email and voicemail at night and on the weekends.

They use the word passion but when probed, what they really mean is that they want you to care as much about their business as they do. And they want to be your priority. All clients, big or small, want to be your favorite and the one you’re always thinking about.

Advice and leadership
Clients are weary and they want their agency to shoulder some of their load. They don’t want to dictate the direction and all the particulars. They need their agency to proactively bring them ideas, listen intelligently, ask insightful questions, push back when they think the client is wrong and help drive the business towards achieving its goals.

Order takers and yes men/women aren’t enough. This is a tough one for agency owners to wrap their heads around. It sounds great in theory but it’s difficult for some owners to put the account at risk by pushing back or taking the lead.

Like co-workers, an agency AE and client can get into a productive rhythm together after they’ve worked side by side for awhile. This efficiency and not having to repeat or re-educate a new person every so often is incredibly valuable to clients. They love it when their account team stays intact.

No Self-interest
This doesn’t mean clients don’t want their agencies to be profitable or to benefit from the working relationship. In fact, when a client loves their agency — they will go out of their way to help the agency do both. But what clients don’t like is when the agency is serving two masters. This is really a trust issue. Are you recommending that media buy because it is best for me or because of the commission structure? Are you suggesting this creative because you think it will drive sales or win awards?

Cost Effectiveness
Again — they know the agency has to make a profit. That’s not what this is about. This is about helping them spend every dollar wisely. It’s about having a big picture vision so that all of the money/efforts are pulling in the same direction. It’s about investing where money needs to be spent and cutting corners/finding a new way, where it doesn’t need to be spent. This gets back to that no self interest and trust thing.


There’s nothing more profitable to an agency than a long term client. But to get them to stick around — you’re going to have to train your team (and yourself) on these client retention strategies in order to deliver on these items. For many clients, they’re deal breakers when they’re not present.