Understanding the client’s point of view is the first step in building a strong long-term relationship.

ad agency client relationships

Keeping clients is about learning to clear the hurdles.

In addition to economic pressures, there are other negative forces or “hurdles” at work which impact the client/agency relationship. The following is a quick review the most common hurdles that agencies must overcome to build a lasting relationship.

Ad Agency Client Relationship Hurdles:

1. Hurdle: Narrow Field of Vision

Problem: The agency’s concentration on advertising and its limited field of vision in seeing other areas of client responsibilities are aggravating to clients. Clients want agencies to understand that they have other cares and concerns than just advertising. For most clients, advertising represents a small fraction of their everyday responsibilities. Agencies appear to be out of step with clients when agencies fail to recognize this fact.

2. Hurdle: Advertising Less Significant

Problem: The percentage of the client’s total marketing budget allocated to advertising has dropped dramatically over the last 10 years. This is reflected in major shifts away from advertising and into promotions, special events, direct marketing, cents-off coupons, price cuts, slot allowances and the rest. Consequently, advertising is not seen as having a significant impact on the client’s marketing program and total business. Advertising is stuck behind the Enterprise locomotive, way back in the caboose.

3. Hurdle: Lost Intellectual Altitude

Problem: Agencies have lost intellectual altitude in the minds of many clients. Agencies are seen as useful to have around but often aren’t invited to work on the larger enterprise problems and opportunities.

4. Hurdle: Fixation on Creative

Problem: Agencies’ fixation on the creative product and the creative process makes it unsurprising that they are not taken seriously in the boardroom. It’s communication vs. business and strategy vs. tactics.

5. Hurdle: Lost Relationship-Keeper

Problem: At many agencies, the account management staff act as the in-house sales force for the creative department. In this role the account staff has no power to fight for the client’s point of view with a war-lord creative director. Clients know this and resent it. The account management team is no longer seen as the client’s relationship keeper at the agency nor the agency’s leader with the client.

6. Hurdle: Lost Trust

Problem: Many agencies are never seen as being on the client’s side, but are seen as having their own agenda with a focus on “doing creative.” This puts the focus on the agency’s agenda, not the client’s agenda. This shift in focus has caused a serious breakdown in client trust in agencies.

7. Hurdle: Focus on Price

Problem: Most agencies offer similar services with little added value or differentiation – a good description of a commodity. In any market where there is no meaningful value added to the product or service, price becomes the most important consideration. Agencies are faced with this now.

8. Hurdle: Self-Interest at Heart

Problem: Agencies always seem to be looking out for ways to get clients to spend more so agencies can earn more. This is selling Value Added Services, and drives clients crazy. Find a way to only offer ideas that help the client – both personally and professionally.

A Powder Keg Situation.

With all these hurdles in front of many marketing firms it’s no wonder client satisfaction is at an all time low. And if the client’s agency is doing poor work, not getting or tracking results, all these hurdles and barriers rise even higher. Sadly in today’s world here is little linkage between agency management and client senior management – many firms are stuck in the conference room, not the board room. So there is little understanding of the overall business goals and limited discussion on the state of the relationship. This ends up with the agency positioned as a disposable vendor.

Early Warning Trip Wires:

It’s important for your firm to have a series of tripwires that can help you identify problems before they blow up in your face. Each of the below can help you stay close to the relationship:

  1. The relationship contract
  2. The agency report card
  3. The client report card
  4. The quality assurance checkup
  5. Personal interview
  6. Calling before an invoice (the last impression)
  7. Calling after an invoice
  8. Monthly management review calls
  9. Regular social get-together with senior management
  10. The client/agency retreat

If you’re interested in finding a way to go around these hurdles perhaps our High Gear program is for you. It demonstrates to account management professionals how to manage the client relationship. This approach makes the client/agency relationship stronger and more profitable for your agency.


Photo credit: oscarandtara / Foter / CC BY