Client Relationships...Discuss

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Jeff Brooks
The short-term, results-obsessed world in which we all live is arguably the time in history with the greatest potential for innovation— from the way business is conducted, to the way consumers interact with brands. This is something that must be reconciled by clients in order for them to get the most out of their agencies. An increasing amount of competitive advantage in today's market will come from breakthroughs that could never be forecasted on a spreadsheet. So a willingness to explore new avenues of innovation and experimentation is a critical part of the relationship. This is one of the areas we are relentless about at Euro—getting our clients to the future first.

So to answer the question: I guess the greatest clients are the ones who embrace their agencies as true business partners, and that are willing to take risks— calculated ones—to stay ahead of the pack. Those kinds of partnerships are the ones that truly allow agencies to use their creativity to drive brand value, shareholder value, and everything in between.

Bob Moore
Chief Creative Officer, Publicis USA
I've always argued that it's easier to sell to a friend than to an enemy. So it's up to us to try to form relationships, understand clients, listen to them a little better. Hear what they're saying, but also understand why they're saying it.

All the best work I've done has happened when there was a very close relationship between agency and client. For example, with Nike, we'd spend weekends together, party with each other, run races together. And that was a great model for me in terms of seeing how good work happens. You'd walk into a room at Nike and it wasn't like the agency arriving, it was a friend who understood the brand and cared about it. And in that situation, it becomes easier to "sell" ideas, because you're not really "selling"—you're sharing those ideas with people you care about. If you trust your clients and your clients trust you, amazing things can happen.

Steve Simpson
Partner/Creative Director, Goodby, Silverstein and Partners
Clients who think politically and don't care about communication are poison to agencies. And agencies who think only of their creative peers and ugly metal prizes are poison to clients. Clients have to love communication, and agencies have to love their clients' businesses. You don't think it's worked this way with Nike? Or with Mini Cooper? Or with Got Milk?

Even as agencies are famously wondering aloud what their role is in the modern marketing world, the best agencies have been handed a rare and wonderful opportunity. They are now being asked to help with everything from developing products to designing stores to remaking corporate websites to planning industry events and sprucing up executive speeches. And they're called upon for a whole area of expertise and intellectual property that requires them to work and think and hire very differently.

It is said that Charles Eames used to have a dedicated phone line straight to the office of the CEO of IBM, Thomas Watson, so if he had an idea for a film or an exhibit, he could present the idea to Watson directly. (That's how "Powers of Ten" got made.) Every agency head should want this kind of closeness to the head of the business. And every head of the business ought to care this much about communication. Eames and Watson had it figured out. The rest of us are just coming back around to it.

Michael Jager
Creative Director, JDK Design
So where are the strong? And who are the trusted? And where is the harmony? Taking a cue from a signature song by British rock hero Nick Lowe (later covered by Elvis Costello), we look for this in our clients.

Peace: We want clients who are confident in their point of view on their brands. They have clarity as to what they are trying to achieve. They are secure in a vision of themselves and their role in the creative process.
Love: We want to know what they care about. They have integrity and a true belief in a mission that's at a higher plane than just business success. In other words, they give a damn.
Understanding: We look for people who get the power of design to differentiate brands and who understand the collaborative process needed to arrive at powerful solutions.

As Lowe asks in his song, "What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?" The big change in the last few years? Peace. Love and understanding are harder to find.

Richard Bullock
Executive Creative Director, 180 Amsterdam
The work is only as good as your client. It's a saying we use regularly internally. Maybe once in a millennium you can give a client work they don't deserve. But generally the work matches the expectations of the client. If you exceed them, then they can bring the work back down to fit their level. If you show work that's less than amazing a good client will expect more.

A client with a clear understanding of who they are and what they want to do is important. We need the client's knowledge of the brand and the real world issues and we need to work at finding the answer together. Good clients leave room for magic in the execution phase and stay clear of too much noodling.

But clients require lots and lots of talking, sharing and collaboration. I think of only one or two occasions in my career where I heard the angels singing behind the words of my client. Those guys got the best work of all because they put 100% of their faith in you.

Kevin Roddy
Executive Creative Director, BBH/New York
A great client and agency relationship exists when they are "partners." True partners. Not a relationship where the agency is a "vendor." They need to listen to one another, respect each other, and share the responsibilty for their actions. As soon as one starts thinking they're superior to the other it all falls apart. Another prerequisite to a great relationship is trust. And that goes both ways.

Has that changed recently? Hell yes it has. For many reasons. But I'll just talk about one potentially controversial one. The advertising industry has brought it upon ourselves. The industry has too often taken advantage of a client's trust and spent it uselessly. And when you do that once, it's gone forever.

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