How To Be a Great Client

A fellow Renegade recently took a job on the Client side and asked for some advice to ease the transition. Here’s what I suggested:

  1. Know your brand: Seems simple enough but you’d be amazed at how many folks on the client side can’t articulate their brand’s values and aspirations. Without this understanding, how can you possibly judge creative work and arbitrate between what is and isn’t on brand? Knowing your brand means knowing its history, its customers, its competition and its strengths and weaknesses. This takes time and a deep sense of curiosity but is well worth the trouble. Once you know your brand, your job will become much easier and the work you get to approve, much better.
  2. Know your company: Again, this seems like a no brainer, but if you, as a top marketer, don’t know the ins and outs of your company, you don’t stand a chance of getting great work through your company’s hierarchy. This understanding is especially important for new arrivals who are eager to make their mark but stumble when they incorrectly read the politics of their company. Before you jump in and set a new direction, make sure you have a firm foundation of support both intellectually and politically. The expression “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” comes to mind.
  3. Own the integration process: Lots of clients allow each of their agency partners to have their own creative strategy for each of the marketing disciplines. This is not a bad practice in and of itself, but it can lead to disintegrated communication programs. A great client insists that their agencies work together to develop one over-arching strategy and one over-arching campaign. This approach leads to big campaign ideas like the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” and GE’s “Ecomagination.”
  4. Have some chutzpah: Let’s face it, cutting through these days is tough and it takes some chutzpah. In the era of the ad-zapping DVRs, perhaps the biggest risk is not taking one at all. If you are uncomfortable trying to do something fresh, then marketing is probably a bad career choice. Imagine the chutzpah it took to tell the board of a conservative insurance company that their new spokesperson was a duck? Ten years later that same duck has increase shareholder value by a zillion and made Aflac a household brand. So the next time you are reviewing campaign ideas, keep in mind that one you are certain you could never sell to the CEO might be the campaign that makes you and your company famous.
  5. When in doubt, test online: Since too much chutzpah could cost you your job, especially if you haven’t been there very long, you might need some ammunition to convince the boss that a particular ad or campaign is worth the risk. One way to do this is to test the campaign online. Online testing has the advantage of being incredibly targeted and swift to produce. We recently ran a campaign that was meant to drive online sales and included a pool of 5 different ads, one of which was a little racy. Turns out that the slightly racy ad outsold the others in the pool three to one. Ironically, we still ended up pulling that ad because of one complaint letter!
  6. Be nice: Linda Kaplan Thaler wrote a whole book on the “Power of Nice” in business and in life. Unfortunately, her book is not on the “must read” list at many companies. For those of you just starting out in the business, it may not be obvious that being nice is a prerequisite to maximizing your ROA (Return on Agency). In fact, you may get the sense that the opposite is true, what with procurement beating up on the financial side, CEO’s crying “to heck with brand just give me sales,” and everyone else placing the blame on the agency for just about everything but product defects. It is a tough time to be Nice, but the rewards, I assure you, are extraordinary. Be nice and you’ll inspire a level of dedication reserved for the worthy, the heroic, the best of the best. And even if that doesn’t happen, at least you’ll have a “nice” answer to your kid’s question, “How was work today?”

Of course, I’m just an agency guy—what do I know?


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