September 14, 2017

The Art of Being a Great Client

Recently, I was reacquainted with The Art of Client Service, a must-read for any aspiring account executive eager to set his or her agency (and the ad world) on fire. Flipping through the pages, I wondered why there was never a companion piece, The Art of Being a Great Client. Looking back on the countless clients I’ve worked with over the years, there were certain traits that uniformly predicted who would be a great client and, in turn, where the agency would do its best work.

  1. They ditched the vendor mentality. There’s no better way to suck the wind out of an agency team than to treat us like vendors. When clients do, the distance is palpable and, candidly, uninspiring. For us, it’s personal. Our mutual success is intimately fused. The more a client treats us like an extension of their team, the better we will perform.
  2. They set goals and provided data. First, great clients stay focused on why they called us in the first place. This usually boils down to unmet challenges and/or unfulfilled opportunities. Then, they provide us with as much data, research and information as possible. Oh, and they don’t forget the voice-overs, context, sidebars, caveats and red flags. It’s the only way to ensure that our work will be on point.
  3. They understood that we’re thinkers. Clients need stuff—most likely stuff that can’t be created in-house and, often, that internal stakeholders are eager to receive. Great clients don’t succumb to the pressure of the stuff. They recognize that behind all the clever messaging, color-coded media plans, finely tuned project schedules, insightful analytics and compelling content there is a whole lot of agency thinking. So they protect our time to think—and understand the value of our thinking.
  4. They ran great project briefings. The key ingredient of stellar agency work? Some say it’s the creative brief. Some say it’s the caliber of agency talent. And others point to the risk appetite of the client. I say that it’s the project briefing. That singular event, at the outset, can predict wild success, entirely unmet expectations or what I like to refer to as the dreaded “meh” (so-so work). Great clients prepare to prepare us. They solicit input from project stakeholders, document project scope and key metrics, answer our questions, and level-set project expectations.
  5. They embraced that we’re not corporate. Our LinkedIn profiles might appear similar, but great clients understand that we’re not wired the same way. And that’s exactly why they hired us—to not think like they do. They hired us to harness the power of creative expression, to push boundaries, to take risks and to provide an endless stream of ideas. In return, they’ve taught us to be punctual, to use the term “wheelhouse” properly and to meet business objectives. Good clients embrace our creativity; great clients feed off it.