We talk a lot about what makes good work, or a good creative person, or a good agency. We seldom think about what makes a good client. Of course, maybe more than anything, good work does not happen (consistently) without good clients. What follows I adapted from Martin Puris' "In Advertising, What Distinguishes a Great Client." He wrote it for Adweek back in 1988. It works today.
1. A spirit of partnership.
There are two kinds of agency/client relationships. One has the client as the superior and the agency as the subordinate. A climate of fear prevails. If you, the agency, don’t do as you’re told, you’ll get canned. This kind of relationship is characterized by mistrust and intimidation. And good work never results.
Great agency/client relationships are those based on equal partnership. Fear, intimidation and disrespect have no place. And it is precisely the absence of fear that makes the relationship work. That allows for honesty. That allows agencies to disagree with their clients, to argue, to take great risks that almost inevitably are required to achieve great results. It also allows agencies to admit when they have failed.
2. Make the agency totally absorbed in the company’s product, the people and the corporate culture.
Great clients totally immerse their agencies in the products. This is hard work for both agencies and clients. It takes time, costs money and involves risks.
Only through total immersion can agency people learn the facts that become emblems for the whole. Total immersion is when an agency team thoroughly understands a client’s “corporate culture. It’s only then that it will be more likely to create campaigns that last.
3. Create an environment of experimentation and be prepared to pay for failure.
Nothing leads to mediocrity in advertising as directly as an environment of risk-aversion. And mediocrity is advertising means your messages will be unobtrusive.
Very few advertisers have budgets large enough to allow unobtrusive advertisements enter a target’s mind. Most advertisers spend at a lower level—a level at which you can’t afford to change messages frequently. So you have to find a winning campaign: one that will stand out.
Great clients want advertising that stands out. So great clients create an environment of risk-taking, and great clients back up this philosophy with a willingness to pay for experiments that go wrong.
4. Get to know the people who work on your business.
Not just the C-Suite. But the people who are in the trenches. These people are people with a true passion for your brand and for creating work that will work for you (and for themselves.) Great clients know it’s human nature for people to work harder for friends than for business associates. The happy consequence is that the great client gets more effort out of the agency.
5. Agree on a clearly defined objective for advertising.
Most advertising fails to work before the first bit of copy is ever written. It fails because we haven’t defined or agreed upon the message we wish to communicate.
Most often it seems that creative strategies are often “approved” with an alarming lack of discussion—but creative executions are scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb, often at numerous levels within an organization.
6. Keep approvals simple, and disapprovals simple and clear.
Nothing saps the energy and spirit of an agency more than presenting the same work over and over to different levels and sections of a client’s organization, debating nuance and detail along the way.
The best system for approval of advertising is, frankly, to have as few layers as possible. And yes, this does mean one layer is best.
As for as disapprovals, be honest, articulate and specific. Work hard to express your issues. Only then can changes be addressed. Great clients demonstrate that they have listened very carefully to the agency’s point of view and respect it.