If your agency is going to survive, you have to have lasting client-relationships where good work flourishes and accounts stay profitable.

Who in your agency is farming the client base?

Who in your agency is farming the client base?

This is the role of your account management team. They are the farmers, the growers, the leaders of long-term success for any marketing agency. The focus of account management must be on providing strategic direction, developing business-building suggestions, moving clients into sustainable and winning campaigns, and creating strong relationships that last. It all boils down to what ad agency clients really want.

Below are a few tips on how your account management team can bring clients into the agency fold and keep them longer.

6 Ways to Keep Ad Agency Clients Longer:

1. Start Right:

Keeping clients longer means starting off right, and that’s often called the “bedding down” process. Agencies need a strong way to bring clients on board because most agencies bring on new clients the wrong way and spoil the relationship right in the beginning.

These agencies get caught dealing with the squeaking wheel, the urgent project that’s usually not important but causing a problem. To the client, it might be important, but these squeaking wheels side-track those first few weeks when the agency/client relationship is being formed, when contact with senior management is being established and when the agency is positioned in the minds of senior management.

It’s like throwing seed down without tilling and turning the soil first. The seeds might be urgent but prepping the soil is important. It’s at the beginning of the agency/client relationship when an agency has most running room and a chance to set the tone for years to come.

The best way to begin is to start with a one-day management retreat where a Client Master Plan is developed that will guide the relationship over the next six-twelve months. Working on the Master Plan helps an agency understand the business objectives and not just the advertising assignments.

If you don’t start off with a Client Master Plan, then you are harming your retention chances right from the beginning.


2. Focus Right:

It’s not just about the work anymore. Clients hire agencies and other marketing communication firms to solve marketing communications problems. That’s simple to understand, but clients tend to keep firms that do much more than just producing work that solves problems.

Note: doing the work is very important and doing poor work is a quick way to get fired. But focusing on more than the work is a way to build a long-tem client.

In survey after survey clients of all sizes report the number one thing they want from agencies and marketing communication firms is a steady stream of Business Building Ideas (BBIs). In this instance, clients are not talking about communication solutions that build business but broader ideas designed to help their businesses build more business.

It’s a big difference. Clients specify a “steady stream” as one business-building idea a month. At most agencies this is a standard rarely reached because no one within the firm is tasked with developing a steady stream of BBIs.

Want to enhance retention dramatically? Then shift your focus to developing a steady stream of BBIs to go along with the marketing communication solutions you are paid to develop. And one funny thing you’ll notice — clients don’t track whether or not the idea gets used. They want them all and they reward firms that bring BBIs to them by keeping those firms longer.


3. Control Expectations:

Not understanding client expectations is dangerous. Not meeting client expectations gets you fired. Few agencies take the time to understand client expectations right from the start. These agencies usually compound the situation by not making periodic checks on whether or not the client feels expectations are being met. It is a form of flying blind that doesn’t help retention.

To avoid getting blindsided, use the following action steps to help meet expectations:



Kickoff Retreat Setting expectations
Agency Report Card Meeting expectations
3rd Party QC Check Understanding expectations
Monthly call from leadership Checking expectations
Call after big invoice arrives Meeting value expectations
Call after new campaign launch Meeting performance expectations
Courtesy call to client management Helping establish expectations

Set up a strong early-warning system and track the results. Make sure you’re never surprised again. Keep a close check on your crops.


4. Train The Account Team:

Want to lose a good client quickly? Dump a poorly trained account executive on the account. This is a sure-fire way to cause problems.

It really gets serious because many clients put up with poorly trained account handlers and suffer through in silence, figuring that it’s the agency’s responsibility to train their staff, not the client. These clients keep silent and make the decision to leave the agency rather than squeal to agency management about the poor skill level of the account person assigned to them.

You know that there are a number of important skills a good account executive needs to have. These can be divided into job-related skills which are picked up on the job training (OJT). But there are many account-related skills that aren’t taught OJT and special agency-oriented training is needed here. It’s stuff not taught in college courses or to summer interns.

If you’re operating without these skills in place with your account staff, then you might be dealing with a ticking time bomb.

Account Staff Checklist

  • Writes and presents well?
  • Negotiates competently and often on behalf of agency?
  • Plans well, stays ahead of power curve?
  • Manages projects well?
  • Understands budgets and how to discover the real number?
  • Documents important decisions with written follow up, especially decisions involving money?
  • Looks the part (one notch better than the client)?
  • Has good social skills?

Set up a strong account team training program that focuses on the all important relationship building skills.


5. Use a Black Box:

A Black Box is a strategic process that allows an agency to set direction for the creative work. Preferably your Black Box should be able to show the proper way to solve a difficult communication problem and have the bandwidth to crack a branding problem too.

An agency that tries to operate without a Black Box is trusting on the insights of staff members and creative teams rather than insights from the market. With clients, market insights will outmatch opinions from your creative team at every turn.

Clients quickly tire of agencies rushing in with creative direction and advertising ideas instead of market insights produced from a strategic process in which they believe and understand.

It’s simple. Want to keep clients longer? Then invest in a strategic Black Box and use it when a client needs fresh direction, better branding, or wishes to introduce new services or products. To do it any other way is asking for trouble.


6. Profile Clients:

If your agency is trying to treat all clients the same way, you won’t keep them very long. The reason is simple: clients are not all alike. Now trying to manage each one separately can drive an agency crazy, but there’s an easier way.

Take a systems approach to managing your clients. It’s simple because all clients come in one of four versions and that means you simply put each into a system that treats that client in a manner that they like.

It’s simple to do and a systems approach makes it easy for your agency to adopt this way of thinking. Clients notice the difference right away and quickly respond. They warm up. Tensions go down. More work gets done. And what we call “chemistry,” the real glue of retention, starts working for you.

How We Help:

Much of our work at helping agencies and other marketing communication companies is in the area of client retention and account management training – understanding what ad agency clients really want! It’s been one of our key practice areas for many years.

We have a wide variety of training programs and profitability consultants specifically designed to help agencies keep and grow clients. Our focus is on building client retention skills at the agency including courses in account management, retention planning, strategic leadership, and client profiling. We consult with agencies on a wide variety of important client handling issues such as client profitability, improving agency structure to improve agency performance, team building and more.

Each agency is different and our approach varies depending upon the need of the agency. We often are engaged to do a quick assessment to determine current skill levels within the account service department, and we work with firm’s management team to develop a specific course of action.



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