Beware the Two-Headed Clients

Some Need Rush Jobs Before Getting Down to Serious Branding

By Published on .

Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
I'm discovering a new trend among clients. Some are hiring agencies for strategic insights and creative horsepower. But before the branding process begins, they need immediate deliverables the first 90 days -- to satisfy the investors.

At first, I thought this approach was a one-off from a new client. Then a couple of months later, another made a similar request. Followed by still another just last week. Saying "yes" to these requests is a great new-business closing strategy. But I'm learning that it comes with enough baggage to stock a luggage store.

The client that you WANT is 90 days away. The client that you HAVE can turn your agency into Jiffy Ad Shop, demanding ideas in unreasonable turn-around time, as well as ignoring the process, tight copy and thoughtful art direction. It's all about generating revenue, or preparing specific materials for an important event. Or some other kind of non-strategic reason.

It's like having two different clients.

As an agency, all we want to focus on is what's 90 days away -- doing the right research; following a process (one led by an account planner); getting involved early in strategy sessions with the account management and creative teams. After all, that's why we were seduced into pitching the client in the first place. It said that's what it was looking for in an agency. It's easy for agencies like ours to overlook the short-term stuff (which is what it is). But it's been my experience that overlooking it comes back to haunt you.

Quality agencies aren't built to turn around ideas in a day or two -- a brochure in a week, a website in two weeks. The work sucks. No one is proud of it. And if it succeeds for the client, good luck ever getting the client to allow you to do good work.

In my agency, I take responsibility for saying "yes" to these clients. They're respectable companies, backed by some of the biggest names in American business. But after tackling the short-term stuff, the difficult part is making the transition back to order and sanity. We're still going through it with the first client. So this story doesn't have an ending yet. But it's no surprise that now that we've spoiled it with speed, that will be the expected norm no matter how many times we managed the client's expectations about the 'right' way to do things once the fire drill is over.

Wish us luck. In the meantime, be careful of what you commit to in the pitch process. The tough client will rear its ugly head before the respectful one does.
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