"These people are nuts." "They don't understand creative." "We're the experts here -- why aren't they listening to us?" These are the mantras commonly heard in the halls and huddle rooms of advertising and marketing agencies across the country. I'm talking about client bashing, and we've all been exposed to -- if not participated in -- the habit.
This disease harms the culture of an agency while negatively impacting the work, both directly and indirectly. Do things get tough in client service? Absolutely. Are we subject to seemingly impossible turnarounds and high expectations? Often. Does client bashing extend deadlines and improve the work? Never. So here is my proposition: Let's commit to letting go of client bashing once and for all, cold turkey, today. Let's stop operating from the "Ugh, screw them" attitude and adopt a more positive "Let's dig in" approach.
It's time for a new company culture where we just don't, and won't, be negative. As a result, we'll save precious energy and valuable time problem solving. We should do this because meeting the needs of clients is the best strategy for success -- ours and theirs.
Our clients spend the bulk of their time facing mounting pressure to hit sales figures and efficiency goals. Many have even shared with me that the bright spots in their weeks are their agency calls. So, the best thing we can do as partners is to actively listen and focus on solutions.
Sounds great, but let's be real: Our clients are under tremendous pressure that often results in frustrating circumstances. But there's a better way. In fact, the agency I'm with today was founded on a core of client empathy and appreciation. So instead of bashing, here are three ways to manage them:
1. Tell it to them like it is. You run a digital shop, but what if what the client really needs is PR? Be honest and say so. Otherwise, you end up struggling to fit a square peg in a round hole -- often resulting in more stress for your agency and your client. This situation isn't set up for success and inevitably damages your partnership and reputation alike. Instead, do what's right for the client, every time. Even if it's not the right thing for your bottom line.
2. Practice 100% responsibility. We work in a fast-moving, complex industry. At times, despite the best strategy and solid execution, the results aren't what we expect. In this situation there are two routes to follow: go dark on the client or come to the table proactively with options for how you can help the client pivot.
Without fail, when agencies choose the latter route, clients recognize and appreciate the transparency and the partnership is stronger for it. We all want to deliver inspiring work, on time, on budget and drive phenomenal results. As hard as we try, nobody is perfect and deadlines can be tight. Sometimes it means taking an extra day to make sure the work is right. The client may not remember if the work was late, but they'll never forget if the work was wrong.
3. Deliver tough love when necessary. Regardless of your own efforts, some clients are simply more difficult to deal with than others. There are the clients that your top talent fights to work on, and others that people dread. It's our responsibility to coach our clients on how to get the best work out of their agency. It's not an easy conversation but when it's warranted, delivering some tough love is critical in building a partnership. And remember, it's not one sided. Don't forget to check in internally and ask "What can I do to make this better?"
Negativity is running rampant in our world today, accelerated by presidential election mudslinging. Let's leave the bashing to the candidates and keep things positive within our agency walls. Our own sanity and our clients' results are at stake.