Choosing the Wrong Clients

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The first-law-of-successful-ad-agency-operation: Don’t lose clients.

The second law-of-successful-ad-operation: Get the right clients.

To obey the first law of successful ad agency operation you must first obey the second. Many times we small agencies choose clients poorly. Some of us don’t choose at all, we simply take whatever comes along. By following these basic rules and you will get clients that you can and will keep.

1. Know thyself: Make sure the prospective client is a good chemistry fit for your agency. To do this you must know what you’re about.

2. Be in agreement: Knowing who you are as an agency is not an easy proposition. Synergy doesn’t always come naturally when the partners are from different disciplines. They must find common ground. For example, being from different disciplines my partners and I have different definitions of what being great entails. We have worked hard to bring those definitions into a common goal that our employees can understand and embrace. We agree that our disciplines are three legs of a stool, each needing the others to be successful. A single mission defines what kinds of clients are right for you and those you should avoid.

3. Like your clients: If you don’t like your clients you can bet they don’t like you. This result is an adversarial relationship built upon mistrust. If you don’t like your client as a prospect you can be assured you will like them less when as a client. It’s like marrying someone. You’re not going to change them after you commit to a relationship. Don’t take clients you don’t like. It harms your business because it harms your culture.

4. Run your business: Having to work for a client because your company can’t survive without it is not a good position for an agency. I’ve been there. Ultimately, after a bad client has sucked all of the self-esteem and then leaves you high and dry you will look and the mirror and ask yourself, what did I gain by going through that? If you can keep your clients balanced where no one has more than 20% of the pie, you can decide whom you will work for.

None of the practices I’ve listed are surprising. And there are others. But we’ll let you fill in the others. The point is that fundamental principles frequently get overlooked when making decisions about new business. It’s easy to get dollar signs in your eye when you really need more dollars. I’ve seen a lot of agencies come and go. Many of the ones that have gone owe their demise to not practicing these simple rules of choosing clients wisely.
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