When it comes to client relationships, agencies are either naive “johns” or reluctant whores.
May 4, 2011
I’m working with an art director/partner on some pretty terrific projects. It’s good to be thinking and writing about clients again. More on that later…
Meantime, my partner suggested our goal be building relationships with clients, not just doing “projects” for them. Relationships, he reminded me, are longer term, healthier and just plain better.
That’s the theory anyway. And it used to be the practice. But not anymore. Not for a long time. When clients hire and fire agencies willy-nilly; those aren’t relationships they’re hook-ups or, worse, prostitution.
Which begs the question: Are we agencies “johns,” and dumb johns at that? We eagerly get into bed with each new client thinking this is “the one.” We will grow old and happy together. In order to insure that we staff up, open a regional office, promote the members of the pitch team. Ha. Within seven months the client is indifferent to us or even mad. Maybe we’ve done a campaign they don’t like. Maybe they’ve been hit on by another agency. Probably both. After nine months they put us on notice. The next quarter we’re fired. Few agencies and clients are exempt from this contempt. It’s more than merely a trend. It’s the way it is.
On the other hand, maybe we agencies are more like reluctant prostitutes; after all we are getting paid…sort of. But even then we want to be loved for our personality and willingness to commit. But the client wants it fast, cheap and AWESOME! Against our instincts, we try to accommodate. We are good girls. We don’t want to be dumped. If we fail the client will find another eager beaver willing to turn a trick.
And so the idea of projects becomes evermore desirable. Projects have a beginning, middle and end. They can be accounted. Unfortunately, it begs the question of why agencies need half their staff. Planners? What pray tell, are we planning for –to get fired? Grooming an account executive to hold a brand manager’s hand seems silly given they don’t want to fall in love. As for the rest of us, it seems the wisest course –better said, the only course- is to put as small a team as possible on the business and swing for the fences. Hit a homerun and maybe we’ll keep the account. If we’re let go we’ve got minimal overhead to “reorganize.”
As someone who grew up at a long-term idea factory, I bristle at the ‘wham, bam, thank you Ma’am’ approach but what’s a girl to do? Oh, I know: show your cleavage in social media and whip out the digital.