Extra care for current clients is tops in a downturn

Client service is always important. But as agencies brace themselves for the economic downturn, maintaining good relationships with current clients is critical.

Client service is always important. But as agencies brace themselves for the economic downturn, maintaining good relationships with current clients is critical.

"Clients are increasingly under pressure," says Julianna Richter, EVP and global client relations manager of healthcare at Edelman. "In recent months, there's been extra care."

The agency has worked with its clients to ensure that they feel comfortable with current programs. Edelman is offering to embed staffers at clients' offices, working to anticipate clients' needs.

Richter also notes that creating a true partnership with clients and taking advantage of the cost savings in digital can ease pressure during a tough economy.

"Clients expect digital to be an integral part [of the service we provide]," she says. "Especially in health, clients are becoming more comfortable [with digital]. They're more open than ever before."

Ken Luce, head of the client relationship program at Weber Shandwick, agrees that expanded digital efforts continue to be relevant and important to client service. He also adds that having more global clients on its roster will help (and can help other agencies) weather the economic downturn.

"We're spending more time on relationships and more time on tools for the relationships," he says. "Since the last recession, our clients are much more global."

Client retention, and how client service plays into that factor, is becoming a paramount issue for agencies. Luce says that client retention is important during tough economic times because organic growth is necessary.

"In all practice areas, we're asking, 'Are we bringing the brain power?'" he says.

The agencies are all quick to point out that client service has always been important, but there is a concerted idea that agencies can't grow without retention.

"We have to stay focused on what we do best," says Michael Law, MD of Ogilvy. "So far, things are looking good."

The variety of new wins and expansion into global markets is keeping agency business healthy for Ogilvy, he says, including strength in practices like public affairs.

Law says that clients, though, are seeking out more direct input from senior staff members. "It's increasingly expected," he says.

At Emanate PR, CEO Kim Sample said that while business has remained strong, many clients, especially in financial services, are leaning toward more traditional PR programs, as opposed to more experimental work. The trend is not based on budget concerns, but on the fact that it's the right climate for these types of services.

"We're... paying attention [to the economy]," she says. "But we haven't seen the erosion in current clients."

Among new clients, many are interested in the boutique-like attention that Emanate can pay to its clients, because of the smaller teams and efficient service, Sample says.

"We call it chivalrous service," Sample adds. "All those extra
little touches."

Key points:
Offering direct access to senior staff can reassure a struggling client

Ensuring digital additions for client programs can save money

Creating partnership-like relationships with clients eases economic pressure

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