To know your clients is to know success

Agency success is built upon winning new clients and, as importantly, on keeping those clients.

Agency success is built upon winning new clients and, as importantly, on keeping those clients.

When we win business with a new client, we often hear phrases like “demonstrated passion,” or “genuine interest in helping me achieve my goals.” In an age when the average client-agency relationship is reported to be fewer than three years, how can agencies beat the odds and keep what comes through in the pitch going and growing throughout the relationship?

There are many factors that influence client satisfaction, which is why we review client relationships through a formal three-part process at Fahlgren Mortine. And each year, our clients tell us that one of the most important things we can do to fuel a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship is to know their business.

It sounds so elementary, but I hear it consistently in discussions about the client-agency relationship. From the most technical, niche b-to-b brand to the most widely known consumer brand, the bottom line is that mere familiarity with a client's business is not good enough. We're hired to be an extension of our client's team, but with the unique ability to apply an unbiased, outside perspective to the factors influencing them. To function in this valuable capacity, and to be able to continuously bring bold new ideas (that are grounded in reality) to the table, we must know everything there is to know about a brand's culture, climate, competitors, and customers. So how do we do something that sounds so simple, yet confounds so many?

The answer is a combination of immersion, a constant thirst for information, and the structure and support to make it possible. To properly immerse oneself in a client's brand, there's nothing like spending time in a client's offices; walking their halls, and talking with as many people as you can (this includes the agency principals, as well as the account team. It's important for the client to know that agency leaders care enough about their business to leave their office, attend meetings, and provide their insight).

But we cannot allow the learning to stop at account kickoff. Our learning must mature and evolve as we become ever-smarter counselors from our time with the client. With the unprecedented access we have to data and the power of collaboration between brand strategists, researchers, media planners, and public relations practitioners, we have the ability, and, for those who are to flourish, the responsibility, to uncover ever-deeper and richer familiarity with our clients' brands. Finally, to allow for the extra time the first two steps can take, we must make knowing our clients a standard operating procedure and allow our teams the time to get familiar with their accounts. It's an investment worth making.

On the other side of the coin, this does require a commitment from our clients. In order for both sides to succeed, agencies need access to key thought leaders and relevant company information, responsiveness amid potentially tight turnarounds, and the belief that the agency's primary goal is to help their client win. And, the agency must be allocated the appropriate funds to achieve corporate goals. In short, it requires trust, which is built through transparency, proven accountability, and, of course, culture.

Neil Mortine is president and CEO of Fahlgren Mortine.

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