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Put on your client hat

Author: Todd Jackson

After 10 years of agency life in account services, I made the decision to try something new – make the jump to the client side. While many of my skills and experiences were transferable, the move was also eye-opening, exposing some of the naivete that may be fostered amongst the bright colors and bean bag chairs of an advertising agency. Now, after 6 years in the client seat working with a variety of agencies – digital, social, omnichannel, PR – I find myself back in the familiar and inspiring space of the agency and I’ve brought with me a few lessons learned along the way to ensure a great agency-client partnership.

The client doesn’t think about you

Okay, that may sound a little harsh and it’s only partially true. But the point is that while you spend all day every day thinking about what you need to deliver to the client, their time is taken up by so many non-agency-related things. They aren’t wondering how the agency is coming along with this or that project or chomping at the bit to call to make sure you’re doing okay and understand the request. They expect that you will get the job done when you say you will and provide meaningful updates at the appropriate times. They are not going to hold your hand. As an agency partner you are expected to be an extension of the client. Take initiative. Provide value. And realize that the work that you are doing is just a piece (albeit an important one) of a bigger marketing pie.

Understand the business

This really should go without saying. However, I worked with agencies who claimed to understand what we did and our business model, but in reality, they just tried to retrofit their round-pegged, off-the-shelf strategies into our variety of square-holed challenges. When you are paying an agency to be an extension of you and your organization, and you do not have the aforementioned time to hold their hand, you expect one or more of the following:

  1. They bring extensive relevant knowledge and experience to the table from day one
  2. They will do the appropriate research to inform themselves
  3. They will ask great questions at the right time

There is nothing wrong with asking questions. It shows you are synthesizing the information you have in order to understand and solve a problem. One question you should always be asking is “what are your specific business goals and objectives?” You cannot build a successful campaign or strategy if you aren’t clear about what you are trying to accomplish. Don’t be afraid to ask about very specific goals the client has. I assure you, they are much more detailed than “drive brand awareness” or “increase YOY sales.” If you can align with your client on the measurable goals that they are being held accountable for and build and execute a successful strategy to meet or exceed those goals, you will have a long and successful relationship.

Go beyond vanity metrics

We’ve all heard them – open rate, click-through rate, engagements, likes, shares, retweets, time on page, pageviews, etc, etc. When an agency, especially a digital and social-focused agency, hangs its hat on these types of metrics with little regard to what they actually mean for your business, they aren’t telling the whole story. And it’s not just that some details are missing from the story, it’s the entire point of the story that’s missing. Agencies need to go beyond the superficial and show how non-personal digital marketing efforts are driving the client’s objectives. For example, the client has a goal of growing sales in a particular region. How many leads are you driving in that region? What percentage are qualified? Are those qualified leads converting? And what are the costs for each of those metrics? As an agency you may not always have total visibility to internal sales data, but, as discussed earlier, it’s your job to understand the goals and objectives of the business and build your strategy and analytics accordingly. Reporting on meaningful metrics that allow the client to show the business how their efforts are driving company goals will make your services invaluable.

Substance over style

As a client, I sat through many agency presentations. As expected, the slides were beautifully designed with an accompanying talk track filled with all the right buzzwords and jargon. The problem was that behind that flashy façade many times there wasn’t a lot of substance. And even if there were great ideas in there, it still seemed like most of the agency effort went into making things look pretty instead of really diving into how their ideas will solve my business challenges or drive the outcomes I needed to meet my objectives. As a client with extensive agency experience, I could easily see where the agencies were spending those precious billable hours, and more often than not it was in trying to make themselves look good and not fully thinking through strategies that would actually drive my business.

Now that I am back in one of those comfortable agency bean bag chairs (virtually, of course) I’m making sure that the way I approach client partnerships and help agency colleagues think about delivering great and substantive work is reflective of those lessons learned as a client. Because proving an agency’s worth ultimately lies in how you help drive the client’s business forward. And the best way to do that is to put on your client hat from time to time.

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