What Makes a Great Client?

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Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
I've heard my staff and industry peers voice what they believe a great client is today. They pretty much say the same thing: a client that respects the strategic process; gives the agency regular access to company direction, product innovations and overall company news; invests the proper budget; compensates the agency fairly; and allows the agency to have face time with executive management of the client company.

I happen to agree that these factors help foster successful agency-client relationships. Thing is, getting clients is no more challenging today than five years ago. Getting great clients is, however.

How come?

There are serveral reasons why it's happening. First, accountability on behalf of CEOs has escalated in recent years. CMOs that don't perform are out of a job in less than two years, on average. So what kind of heat do you think that puts on their agencies? Do you think they get a fair shake? Do you think they get time to do great work? Do they get respect? Or the chance to build lasting, mutually rewarding relationships? Likely not.

Second, there is a flood of venture-capital and hedge-fund money out there, often buying client companies and funding the marketing campaigns. If you remember the dot-com boom, you remember what it was like working for a VC firm: unrealistic expectations that pressed agencies into creating overnight brands. Today, the same demands also come in the form of instant sales. I can't tell you how many new-business prospects knock on our door, expecting a modestly-funded marketing campaign to deliver more-than-modest results in a short window.

Finally, it's been my experience that many clients say they want a unique brand, but have no idea how it's built. We explain the process time and again, and receive blank stares, and comments like, "OK, so at the end of the branding process, what are my deliverables?" When we (I speak for my agency peers as well) say it's a strategic positioning -- the most important thing you can do to ensure your brand will stand for something -- the blank stares continue.

That is when you run, don't walk, from the prospect. If they don't get it at the beginning, they never will. And your agency will be stuck doing rather than thinking.

My advice to find great clients is to go out on more dates before getting married. Take the client prospect out for dinner. Get to know what it wants from its agency. See how it's wired. Find out if it gets it. I promise, you'll know rather quickly if it's the real deal. And when it is, do whatever it takes to delight that client. Because they're so hard to find. And great clients will reward you for years to come.
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