Trust vs. Fear: Client Relations

One of my favorite clients when I was working at Publicis was the brand manager for a small fruit grower co-op based in Eastern Washington. My team presented a brand campaign that we felt was best for the brand and the client’s initial response was reluctance. After further conversation, he said, “You guys make sense and I don’t really have any arguments against the work.” So he took the campaign back to his board, a very conservative group of farmers, and sold it through.

I asked him, after the campaign was printed, “What was the feedback?”.

He said, “ Eric, this campaign made us players in our industry. I had all the big guys coming up to us at trade shows and commenting on how much they liked the work. This never happened before.”

As you can imagine, this was extremely gratifying to the Publicis team. We had an extremely intelligent client, whom we all respected, that had initial trepidation to the work. We had done our strategic homework, however, and followed the tips outlined below building up a reservoir of trust. Both the agency and client reaped the benefits of that trust.

How can you assuage client fear and work together for great results?

1. As an agency contact, be empathetic. Sounds hokey, but think about it: Design is only a small fraction of what your client contact deals with in a day’s time. Realize their decision to OK a project puts their job on the line.

2. Be trustworthy. We all know the stereotype of the ad agency only looking to cover up that empty space in the trophy case. Don’t be those people.

3. Do your research. If you know their business, their competitors, their culture, you can relate better. If you feel their pain, they’ll feel like you truly understand and will start to relax more. More importantly, the client contact will begin to confide more. This is where you discover true pains and assist in fixing them.

And as a client, be as forthcoming as possible with information. In most instances an NDA is signed at the beginning of a relationship, which protects everyone involved.

4. Take a long-term view. Know that the client relationship is more important than the ten percent increase in logo size requested.

As a client, think about the changes you are about to request and provide rationale behind them so everyone is on the same page.

5. Be responsive. If the client calls you, answer immediately or call back ASAP. There are plenty of agencies out there that will be happy to take your client if you can’t take care of their needs quickly and painlessly.

From a client perspective, if we’re calling you, it’s important. We understand your time is valuable, but sometimes we may need further detail or clarification before wrapping up a project.

6. Be an advisor. It’s ultimately not in your best interest to be a vendor. Vendors are replaceable. A valued advisor is not.

For both the agency and the client, client relations is all about trust. The agency needs to act in a trustworthy manner and the client needs to trust the marketing experts they hired.