Are You Walking in Your Clients' Shoes?

Don't Wait for Your Clients to Ask You for a Solution to a Nagging Problem

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Marc Brownstein
Marc Brownstein
Every time someone does an industry study about what clients want most from their ad agencies, one thing always seems to come in at, or near, the top of the list: proactive thinking. Clients hire us to understand their business, help them identify problems, and bring them solutions. Pretty simple charge, eh? Yet most agencies wait for the phone to ring from their clients, asking the agency to solve a specific problem.

Recently, one of Brownstein Group's clients was being unfairly attacked by a competitor. The more I saw the ads from this competitor, the angrier I became. I knew my client had a great product, and the other side of the story had to be told. It's similar to battle: I believe that if you're responding to competitive attacks from multiple positions, you have a strategic advantage and you will win (winning as defined by of increased success for your client). So we mobilized internally, and quickly, to prepare a strong response. I put a few teams on this project, and we had only 48 hours to create our ideas. But I was less concerned about the time, and more focused on getting the right concepts into the marketplace.

So I presented the ideas to my client and they were very well received. In fact, the process was so energizing for everyone -- our client, who was surprised and relieved to have more ammo to go to market with, and my team, who loved being able to sink their teeth into an assignment. Because of the quick turn-around, there was no time to second-guess risky thinking.

I don't ask my team to dive into a project with so little time, and expect great solutions, every week. That can cause burnout after a while. However, if our job as an ad agency is to help our clients' steal greater market share and drive increased revenue, then agencies like ours must take the initiative, and bring ideas to those who retain us, without waiting to be asked.

I believe there are varying levels of proactivity: You can monitor competitive activity on a weekly basis, and report that information back to clients with an agency point of view. That is a fairly basic aspect of thoughtful account management, and ought to be practiced regularly. Then there's a white paper you can prepare and present. That can have many positive implications, which can help spark new marketing campaigns. And then there's an all-out spec campaign, with integrated ideas, where you are treating your client like it's a new business presentation. There is a time and a place for each of these approaches.

The key here is that you should always walk in your clients' shoes. Understand what's troubling him/her. Know how you can be of greater value to your clients. And don't wait to be asked to present work. Just make it happen. That's how we delight our clients. And I have to tell you, taking this approach is one of the most inspiring parts of my job. I know my colleagues at our agency agree.

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