Monday, December 29, 2008

Account management 101

On the ferry today I was considering how unique the interaction between clients and agencies is. 

Clients hire agencies to be creative. To come up with ways of saying things that are more interesting and engaging than they, the client, could come up with on their own. They also hire agencies to get the job done and make their lives easier.

Clients tend to pick agencies that they think they'll like working with and that they think will do a great job. Money and other elements come into play, but I believe that those first two items are at the core of the agency selection process.

Yet it's amazing how often those two, good work and ease of working together, come into conflict. And therein is the skill to managing agency/client relationships. You need to produce great work that the client will be proud of but the client also needs to feel good about working with you. 

This would be easy if clients and the agency always saw eye to eye. But that's not the reality. Other issues always come up, whether it's a personal, strategic, aesthetic or arbitrary differences. And it's at that point where agencies will feel that they're being asked to compromise and not do the best work possible for the client.

In this case, it would be easiest to cave in immediately and just do whatever the client asked. After all, that is what being "the client" means. The client pays the bills, so there is a feeling that the most efficient way to deal with a request is to just do what they ask.

The challenge is that to just do what they ask will often mean sacrificing the quality of the work being produced. If this was just a matter of creative integrity it would be one thing, but it's not. It's also a business problem. Because if the client request does reduce the quality of the work, then over the long term the agency is going to be producing a sub-standard body of work. That will impact the business and will cost the agency a client.

So, by not giving the client what they want and "pushing back" an agency can become viewed as difficult to work with. But by giving the client exactly what they want the agency risks providing sub-par creative work that will be unsatisfying to the client in the long run.

In the end, we do what we've always done: discuss, negotiate and try to create the highest quality work possible for a client while keeping them happy about working with us. 

It's not an easy job. It's stressful being in between the two objectives and trying to bring them together. Maybe if this whole advertising thing doesn't work out for me I'll consider bringing peace to the middle east.

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