Initial actions instrumental to client relationships

A good agency-client relationship doesn't happen by accident. It's typically the result of hard work and planning that starts at the very beginning of the firm's involvement with the client.

A good agency-client relationship doesn't happen by accident. It's typically the result of hard work and planning that starts at the very beginning of the firm's involvement with the client.

At the start of any new client relationship, one of the first things Porter Novelli does is hold a half-day expectations meeting with the account and agency team, says David Zucker, firm partner and director of client services.

Topics covered range from scope of work, to preferred method and frequency of communication, to how to address situations when client and agency disagree. A PN staffer not directly involved with the account is present to serve as a third-party observer, and all decisions are signed into a contract.

"The client reaction to the meeting is overwhelmingly positive and makes them feel very comfortable right from the get-go that we're raising all the points we can foresee that would potentially cause friction," Zucker says. "It helps... to build a strong relationship of transparency, which is... so important for a good client relationship."

MWW Group president and CEO Michael Kempner says the first question the agency team asks a new client is how it defines success. Then, both the agency and the client try to establish expectations for different intervals throughout the relationship.

"If we have a clear vision of success planted in our minds, we can work backward from there. You need to work with a client to set aggressive, but realistic and objective-based expectations," says Kempner. "All relationships are really created within the first few weeks. You need to start off on the right foot. If you stumble at the beginning, it's hard to recover."

Ideally, the entire agency team is present at those initial meetings, unless the client prefers to meet only with senior personnel.

"Having the team involved early and being part of this process [allows them] to be significantly more vested in the success, and nothing gets lost in translation," Kempner says.

Every new client relationship at Text 100 starts with a kickoff meeting to discuss the client's expectations of the agency - and vice versa.

"If we can all get on the same page starting out, that will lead us down the road to a long and rewarding relationship," says Tracey Fitzgerald, VP and client services lead in North America. "Our goal is to make sure that those kickoff meetings are a two-way dialogue."

At the start of each partnership, the agency also distributes a client "welcome pack," which includes information on all aspects and departments of the agency, as well as bios of each team member that feature quirky facts, such as "the first record I ever bought" and "biggest temptation."

"We try to not just provide a bunch of words, but give a bit of our personality, as well," Fitzgerald says.

Those initial meetings are especially important because sometimes the goals expressed during the pitch process are different from the client's immediate needs.

"You can go through a pitch process... and [the client is] focused on the bigger picture," Fitzgerald adds. "But what might come out [in those initial meetings] is that [the client] needs to see coverage in their top-tier publications."

Key points:

Establish success metrics at the very beginning of a new client relationship

Formalizing such things as preferred method and comms frequency saves time and energy long-term

Initial "expectations meetings" can help separate immediate goals from those expressed during the pitch process

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