I’ve worked at a number of advertising agencies of varying sizes in small and large markets, and I’ve heard the same wistful joke voiced at most of them: “This business would be great if it weren’t for clients.” Of course it’s just sarcastic humor, and those saying it were kidding. But a recent Client Quality Survey conducted by SCAN International suggests that at many agencies, that may reflect a prevalent point of view.
Study results showed that a significant number of the nearly one hundred agencies surveyed were quite critical of client performance as it impacted agency performance. Indeed, 45% of them said that clients needed to work on providing better input and direction, and 35% expressed the need for better client decision-making.
I doubt there are many rookies reading this, so it’s safe to assume almost all of us have been disappointed or even frustrated with a client at times. And it’s certainly beyond argument that a client who offers precise, timely, and thorough input will likely get better work as a result. (That old “garbage in, garbage out” cliché applies to most situations in life.)
But resting the problem on your client’s doorstep does little but ensure that a new agency will be walking through that door soon. And for that, you can blame no one but yourself. In the B2B realm in particular,
clients are usually not marketing experts, and have many other responsibilities. They’re not dumb, and they’re not lazy. They’ve hired you to be the expert to guide them through a process in which they are not particularly experienced or comfortable. They’re not sure what they need, let alone how to describe it. And it’s only logical that they become a bit anxious or hesitant when it comes time to approve the final product.
I believe most really good marketing agencies, like those situations best, because it gives us a chance to do what we do best: help them with smart thinking. We don’t need clients to “order” marketing vehicles as they might a new ink cartridge for their printer. To stay with that example, we’d prefer to have them say “We have a printing problem, and we’re not sure if it’s the ink, the machine itself, or what.” The right decision needs our help and expertise, not our disdain.
So if the creative brief is unclear, work with the client to give it more focus and make it more valuable to the people who will execute against it. When it’s time for a decision on work, explain the business benefits of prompt action. But don’t push—they may in fact have more important issues than your project to deal with.
We’re all human. It takes patience and a little resolve to stay above the negative humor. But—at the risk of sounding like a “Pollyanna”—this is truly a case where another old cliché applies. When a client appears to need real help in providing necessary input, or making final decisions, that’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity.