Clients can’t expect their agencies to be mind readers when it comes to
fulfilling expectations, says Rosalyn Palmer
Most people would agree that good business is strongly influenced by the
quality of the relationship between client and supplier. It is often
said ‘people buy people’, so why, under the guise of so-called fairness,
do clients forget this when it comes to the pitch process?
Clients do issue briefs, but the communication tends to stop there. Ask
for any further information, or try to start a dialogue before the
actual pitch and you can be turned away with a ‘sorry, it’s not fair to
the other candidates’. So at a time when agencies could demonstrate
their affinity with the potential client - their grasp of the issues,
their expertise and creativity - they end up with a situation where the
best guess wins.
Imagine seeing your doctor, explaining your symptoms, and then refusing
to answer further questions. Would you seriously get the best out of
This is not a whinge, but a plea for clients to start the relationship
as you would mean to go on. Tell us what’s worked for you in the past,
and what hasn’t, what you like and what you don’t like.
The old joke that consultants borrow your watch to tell you the time
feeds into this. There seems to be a fear that telling an agency about
what you are already doing means that the agency will simply suggest
more of the same and charge you for the pleasure. On the contrary, by
being informed the agency can then take the decision whether to reinvent
the wheel or come up with exciting new ideas.
Interestingly, the recent Agency Report in PR Week showed that many
clients felt disappointed with failed pitch promises. I am sure this is
partly based on the starting point of no communication. Part of the
pitching process involves managing expectations and yet, without
extensive exploration, agencies have to resort to the creative cartwheel
at the pitch, where we flip and turn and show clients how wonderfully
whacky we can be as we conjure up ideas which simply may not be suitable
to the finer details of the account.
If you really can’t bear to talk to us between the issue of the brief
and the pitch please include the following information in your briefs:
* Who has done what for you before, and with what results?
* What do you value about your relationships with other suppliers and
what irritates you?
* What is it that you actually want from a PR campaign?
* What do you want your consumers/customers/clients to think, feel, know
and do as a result of PR?
* How will PR be integrated into the marketing mix, and how will that
process of integration be facilitated?
I’ve been in this business nearly long enough to have seen it all. I’ve
seen one page briefs typed on Victorian typewriters to documents of 20
pages which look more like legal briefs. But I’ve never seen anything
which tells me how to treat a client on an interpersonal level.
Working with some of the UK’s leading marketing services companies, I
see the vigour and commitment that both client and agency put into the
Why not give it a try? The worst thing that could happen is that you get
the working relationship you want. That would be a terrible thing,
Rosalyn Palmer is managing director of Rosalyn Palmer PR