About 10,000 articles will tell you what clients need from their agencies. Trust. Flexibility. Creativity. Innovation. Thought leadership. Value. Focused expertise. Strategic insight. Agility. Seamless communications. 24/7/365 responsiveness. Security. Data mastery. I keep waiting for the day a client asks me if I can get a man to the moon.
I’m kidding—these are all valid requirements for an effective agency. And when you’re pouring your own money into a project, you want what you want: the very best. About one-third of every RFP you’ll read or write will be dedicated to explaining why agency X ticks all those boxes better than any other agency in the world. Why this will be the ideal agency-client partnership, a relationship that will create the very best work, ground-breaking results and rejoicing about the bottom line.
Let’s stop for a moment and flip this around. What do the best agencies need from their clients? After all, you can’t be in a relationship all by yourself. The answer when clients do ask about how the agency wants to work with them is along the lines of “a quick review cycle” or some vague reference to “partnership.” But we really ought to be applying some serious thought to this question: what, in fact, can clients do to support their agencies? What does the ideal client look like, from an agency point of view? Here are a few ideas to get the conversation started.
Appoint an innovation czar
This person doesn’t have to know how to code or future cast about machine learning or artificial intelligence, but it would be great if there were someone on your side who was keeping abreast of developments, someone we could bounce ideas off, someone who could help us make connections between your business needs and new platforms, tools and technologies. On our side, we have account managers who make it their business to know your business inside-out—how about an agency manager on your side to do the same thing?
Encourage us to experiment
Give us a business problem, a budget (even a small one would be grand) and permission to fail so we can play with new interaction models, creative approaches and strategies that focus on your business and what it needs. We might not hit pay dirt the first time, but every experiment we conduct, every problem we solve and, frankly, every mistake we make brings us both closer to your next great breakthrough.
Realize that small can be big
Because we are so focused on providing real-time marketing to individual consumers—or well-defined demographics of them—small, incremental changes and improvements may often lead to the biggest change. We need you to know that radical changes are not necessarily more meaningful than smaller adjustments. We test, we learn, we tweak: It’s a cycle, and it takes time.
Don’t expect the moon and stars tomorrow morning
Massive revenue goals, impressions or headlines should be seen as a long-term goal, not a day-after-tomorrow expectation. The chances are fairly good that we are not going to break the internet the second your site goes live. Prepare yourself for the long haul.
Be ready to listen
Sometimes we are going to bring you news that you don’t want to hear. If we are reluctant to tell you the truth, the problem won’t be solved. Let’s agree from the get-go that, as your agency, we will enjoy both the freedom and bear the responsibility of giving you our best advice. Even if it contradicts what we agreed upon earlier, even if it’s not what you envisioned. Prepare yourself to be agile.
Hit that “Go” button
Don’t hesitate. Changing up the way we work together and the way we communicate is going to benefit your business and help us do the best possible job for you. We want to do imaginative, meaningful, successful work, and we want to get started in the morning.
As agencies, we are responsible for staying on top of trends, breakthroughs and relevant technologies, for marshaling data that gives us the clearest insight into our client’s business and for applying our creativity and ingenuity to solving our client’s problems. But agencies can only do so much.
At the end of the day, clients hold the power—after all, they’re the ones funding and thus enabling our relationship.
And so I have a plea to our clients. Be bold. Be patient. Listen. Help us, your creative and strategic agencies, push the boundaries of what’s possible