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What clients want and how to give it before they ask

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This post is by Toronto-based writer and brand marketer Katherine Gougeon, the co-founder of Top Button, a communications agency that works with decision-makers to create meaning and momentum for emerging and established brands around the world.

Remember the rom-com plotline where the hero stumbles across the diary of his perfect woman and uses the information to transform himself into her ideal man? I recently experienced the corporate version of this when my PR associates at Felicity assembled a panel of blue chip clients to talk candidly about what makes for a valuable long-term partnership.

Their advice?

Don’t bait and switch

Agencies that send their top people on the quest to reel in the account – then push it to underlings once the contract is signed – is an age-old client pain point. Right up there with ‘overpaying’ to get access to the person they thought they’d be working with in the first place. If that’s the way it’s going to be, tell it upfront and like it is – before the client finds out the hard way.

Plan for planning

When an agency gets involved with a client without understanding its planning process, resources run the risk of getting eaten up as quickly as fancy sandwiches at a lunch meeting. Sitting down with the client to map out planning-related protocol and expectations gets the relationship – and the accuracy of the budget – off on the right foot.

Be like a considerate spouse

A considerate spouse, as one panelist put it, brings home things you haven’t asked for but things you’d like. Because clients can get so busy ‘minding the store’, they may not be monitoring their landscape and target audience as closely as they’d like. When an agency brings forward an opportunity or an insight-even if it isn’t in the current mandate or scope of work – it is appreciated. And even if the thought doesn’t fly, it counts.

Set the client up for success

A good agency does more than supply brilliant ideas and recommendations. It takes the time to understand the client’s culture and provides the support to help the client articulate the business problem and create organisational buy-in for the solution. Because if clients don’t have the appropriate tools to persuade and influence their own, even the finest thinking will land in limbo.

Handle qualms with a velvet glove and a fine-tooth comb

One panelist described how, after a certain ad agency delivered a brilliant yet edgy presentation, the client expressed a concern about the creative. After a pensive pause, the creative director answered: “Sometimes… you’ve just got to be brave.” His comment – which implied weakness and fear – nearly sunk the opportunity on the spot. How better to handle client apprehension or indecision?

Let the client lead by encouraging them to articulate exactly what is making them uncomfortable. This creates a forum to discuss and address misgivings, one by one.

In the pursuit of new business, chemistry is a two-way street, and the wise agency also screens the client for a love-match. Our panel gamely offered suggestions for the types of probing questions they’d be willing to answer – but rarely get asked.

Questions like: what business problem are you trying to solve? and what is your decision making process? The content – and quality – of the answers speak volumes about what needs to happen and will set the partnership on a course for transparency, bottom-line orientation, and success.

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Katherine Gougeon is the co-founder of Top Button, a communications agency that works with decision-makers to create meaning and momentum for emerging and established brands around the world. Connect with Katherine on LinkedIn here

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