Clients don’t really want to fire their ad agency

bobs…unless you give them reason to.

I have been in this business now for well over 20 years, and I am still amazed at how paranoid we agency people are about being fired by our clients. After having this discussion with many clients during the course of my career, I can tell you that the last thing they want to do is fire the agency. That is of course unless you have given them a reason or most often many reasons to consider doing so.

Most clients invest an incredible amount of time and effort not only choosing their agency partners, but more importantly educating them about the business, the product, the company and its policies and procedures. The last thing they want to do is go through that process all over again.

If you then add to this the fact that the procurement department is becoming more and more involved in the selection/negotiation process, many clients will tell you that they would prefer root canal treatment. In fact, during a recent discussion with the CMO of a very large client, she told me that she was currently putting up with sub-par client service from her agency to avoid a review.

So why all the paranoia? It seems like we both want the same outcome – that being a long term stable relationship. Yet the current research shows that over 50% of new client relationships do last past the 2 year, mark and 75% do not make it past 4 years.

One reason is that CMO’s have never been under more pressure to produce results in such a limited amount of time. With an average CMO tenure of 18 months right now, most of them know that they have 9-12 months at most to move the needle, or they are out. Sales are mandatory and excuses are seldom acceptable. It’s never been more about results.

I thought it might be helpful to give you two quick checklists. One covering tips on what to do to keep clients longer, and the other listing indications of when you should anticipate being headed for trouble.

Tips to help you keep clients longer:

  • Clarify expectations, deliverables, compensation and measurement at the outset
  • Staff the account with the resources that are both covered by the fee and provide client value at the same time (as determined by the client)
  • Present work that is innovative within boundaries, yet has the best chance of producing results. Support all proposals with actionable insights
  • Continue to be proactive, looking for new ideas to help them succeed. Remember other agencies are approaching them all the time
  • Minimize client service churn, and make sure that you conduct 6 month client/agency reviews
  • Avoid surprises such as cost over runs, agency errors, poor execution etc.
  • Look for co-marketing or partnership opportunities whenever possible. OPM (other people’s money) helps make budgets go further and your agency more valuable

Indications that you are at risk of losing a client:

  • Change in CMO or company leadership. 75% of new CEO’s conduct a review
  • Constant churn in client service and other key agency team members.
  • Product underperforming in the marketplace with poor sales
  • A constant stream of agency errors, arguments over cost estimates, and a client team who tells you that they hate the client
  • Reactivity and no proactivity. An agency of order takers.
  • Little to no senior agency leadership involvement/relationship with client senior management.
  • Another client roster agency kicking butt on the account while your work continues to produce unremarkable results.
  • The coup de grace … the trade press says your work sucks and the client seems to lack direction.
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