If you’ve been invited by one of your clients to participate in an agency review process, it’s probably too late.

save a client

No agency has a perfect record when it comes to retention.

There are exceptions of course – if the review is a corporate mandate for example. But if a review comes out of the blue, it’s probably a good time to say “nope” as your chances of winning are low – some say only one in ten.

Of course, there are those agencies that refuse to accept the inevitable – we receive calls all the time asking for our help to save a client. Classic dead man walking. And sometimes you can avoid the inevitable.

This whole post was inspired by a recent call from a great agency I’ve help many times over the years. It seems one of their best clients was interested in doing a review, and they weren’t sure how to handle it.

This is what she wrote for us after they re-won the account:

“A long-term, significant client had been threatening a review for years. The exposure to new agencies can change everything. We had been with the client for 14 years and were concerned about how to propose a new contract in a way that wouldn’t beg the question of how much money we must have been making on them before. Not sure how to tackle this…we called Sanders Consulting Group. After 3 rounds plus two more negotiating exchanges with Procurement, we found out last week that we’ve won the business. Thank you for all your help!”

How did they save a client? Before you go off and spend money and time in an impossible attempt to save an account, be sure to review the below:

1. Start with a few tough questions:

  • Do you know the real situation?
  • Are the problems fatal? (Size, range of services, location)
  • Can you recover?
  • Is it really a review or a gentle firing?
  • Is the review determined by “company policy” or not?
  • What message is the client sending?
  • Check profile conflicts (Headline vs. Logo/Body Copy vs. Illustration)
  • How bad is the chemistry?
  • Who’s driving the change?
  • Did you forget the personal side (entertaining, being friends)
  • Can you really win it back?

2. Pick the correct winning strategy:

Go for It Resign with Grace
  • Do the full review
  • Don’t skip a step
  • Always, always, always change the account team
  • Do one-on-ones but expect lies
  • Work one meeting ahead
  • Use all the advantages of the incumbent
  • Break the rules
  • Go way beyond what’s asked for
  • Showcase agency leadership
  • Remember keeping the account is 7 times more profitable than winning a similar account
  • Be first with your side of the story
  • Tell your staff quickly
  • Alert your key clients
  • Issue the first news release
  • Remain friends
  • Remember you will never be rehired
  • Avoid angry letters
  • Going after it was a long shot after all (1 out of 10)
  • Who else needs your industry expertise?
  • Take salary action promptly
  • Learn from the experience


 3. Think you can win? Execute with impact:

  • You have to win by a lot to keep the account
  • Big gestures count
  • Redecorate and prop effectively for the tour
  • Position yourself as the newest agency (bring in new staff) and most experienced agency (your account knowledge)
  • Don’t ask permission to change the account staff (“Do you mind if I fire good ol’ Frank?”)
  • Repair any damaged chemistry
  • Move swiftly. Be decisive
  • Demonstrate your inside knowledge
  • Be prepared that your recovery actions will smoke out the real truth and you may be asked not to present
  • Get the full agency involved, show all your people
  • Pull at the heart strings (“make’em cry”)
  • Take a trip down memory lane
  • Absolutely give the best presentation (rehearse!)
  • Work hard to beat the odds
  • Find and leverage a trusted insider
  • Identify the Agency Hero?

4. Celebrate the win:

If you work hard and are somehow able to retain the account, congratulations! Now the hard work begins. You’re already behind the eight-ball. Work hard, work fast, to consolidate your win. Make sure you do what you promised. Use this occasion to learn a valuable lesson. Up the chemistry activities and focus on building stronger relationships. Remember achieving personal goals for a client often count more than achieving company goals. And always remember the message you were suppose to get.

5. Last, but not least, dedicate yourself to a proper early warning system:

  • Agency report card like a new account (90/180/360 days)
  • Monthly check up calls
  • Always call a day after critical invoices arrive
  • “Annual” QC check on relationship
  • Remember the social side

Commit yourself to long-term client retention program and create a written long-term client retention plan.

One final note – don’t forget to ask to see what the other agencies presented. It can’t hurt now to find out what the other agencies pitched, and you may learn something new.


Nick Harris Death from Above photo used under Creative Commons