02 Dec Aim High
I’d like to think that at Natie Branding Agency we offer the kind of brand strategy and creative work that our clients can’t really get anywhere else.
And in most cases, that’s true.
What we deliver is unique to us. How we do it, too. The personal touch. The attention to detail. But from talking to my colleagues in this business over the years, I know that we’re exactly the same as many other similar agencies in one way: the tendency of us all to have a small but surprisingly significant percentage of clients that devalue what we do for them.
Sad, but true. It’s one of the realities of agency life.
There are plenty of ways to get bad work out of a good agency. What are a few?
It could be a client who requests round after round after round of unexpected changes that were a direct result of their indecisiveness and indifference to internal agreement. But worse – they then refuse to pay for any of their changes even when it’s in their agreement? Oh right, that’s on the agency.
Or those that take endless weeks to get back to you with feedback, as you, now locked in a perpetual holding pattern, are unable to do anything except circle the airport while waiting for eventual approval to land the plane. Schedules get thrown out the window. Other client work gets clogged up. And delayed. Your creative teams are burning through days of fees and your otherwise well-oiled creative development process becomes a lurching, backfiring rattletrap.
Or, there’s this dilemma: the leviathan client that provides an outsize percentage of your income. Their brand could very well be your client roster’s crown jewel, at least from the outside. But by any measure, they’re a nightmare to work with – they are disrespectful, capricious, unreasonable, and occasionally… nasty.
Some clients are their own worst enemy.
So what do you do? No matter what your size, you don’t want to turn your back on good income. But at what point is it just not worth the time, morale, and self-respect? I’ve heard this question time and time again from so many colleagues.
And not just in our industry.
I first faced this situation a long time ago. With over 20 years in the game by then, I was too close to it all to act objectively. I needed sage advice from someone I respect, trust and consider a friend. And I knew just the sage.
Since then, he has gone on to be one of the best brand-builders in the world, heading COLLINS. When I need business advice of any kind, I can’t ask for a better sounding board or a wiser or more experienced opinion. And even though I’m in Tel Aviv and he’s in New York City, he’s never far away – we’re still in constant touch.
So I had this exchange with Brian years ago (who kindly let me share our interaction so we can try and add some value here) and I gave him a little background.
I asked him, “What do I tell a big, important client who often doesn’t value or respect our time, care about our work, treats our team badly, and increasingly leans into unprofessional behavior?”
Here’s what he said:
‘Eitan, first – tell them you respect them and their company. And that you want them as a client. And that you always try to do your very best work for them.
But they are not benefitting from your company’s best efforts because they seem to be…untrusting in the management of their relationship with you.
Acting mean and disrespectfully is a sad, old-fashioned way that some clients think they should manage creative agencies.
Even our larger clients all deeply understand just how important it is to demonstrate deep respect for the creative people who work with them on their business. There’s a reason those brands deliver consistently great marketing work.
The world now demands innovation as new ideas now get old in a week. But if your employees and colleagues feel diminished, disrespected, or poorly treated by a client, that client will miss out on the most important opportunity to get the best thing any good agency has to offer:
When people put their heart into their work, real miracles happen. But if you’re always treated like s**t, the heart will stop emerging. And you – and they – will both produce crap for each other and, worse, crap for their customers.
Disrespect, or worse, contempt between a client and its agency inevitably manifests itself in the most dangerous place – contempt for the customer or end-user. In other words, disrespect destroys not just your professional relationship, but can quickly damage a client’s damn business.
Tell them exactly what it feels like to be treated as they treat you – and ask for a change. Ask them how they would feel if you treated their employees that way. Importantly, do not threaten the relationship in ANY way. Say you are committed to them 110% – that you are in the game with them.
Then, if that abusive behavior continues – resign them. Work within your contract, obviously, but politely, kindly resign them.
Otherwise, they’ll damage or even kill off your own company culture.
Agencies get the clients they deserve. And you deserve the best, Eitan. So, if they’re that bad and you can’t turn their behavior around…wish them well and move on.”
Then Brian told me this, which I didn’t see coming.
“Here’s the strange thing. If you bring the relationship to a close with dignity and grace, they will probably ask to come back and work with you, again. Not immediately. But soon enough. And you can set up new, healthier terms of engagement that will work better for everyone. It happens. For real.”
Should a client act respectfully because it’s in my agency’s best interest?
They should do so because it’s in their best interest. They should do so because only then will they get the best work out of their agency. Any other way isn’t the way to build a healthy relationship – or a healthy business or brand.
Fortunately, as I said early on, these kinds of clients constitute a small percentage of our industry. If we see the warning signs early enough, we now politely decline to work with them. They cost us too much in time, money, and team morale. We’re not inclined to partner with companies who treat us like we’re an unfortunate necessity. It’s not worth the time or our self-respect.
After all, there’s another brand we have to be very attentive to as well: our own.
I thought this reminder of what’s important in our industry – in every creative industry – was worth sharing. Personally, I don’t ever want to be seen as an interchangeable vendor. We’re a partner to every one of our clients, big and small. And we should be treated as such. And I’m clear about it when we meet potential clients.
It’s not because we’re sensitive or precious or picky or high maintenance or anything like that.
It’s because that’s how our clients get our best work. We know that’s what they’re looking for. It’s certainly what we’re going for. And it’s definitely what their customers deserve.
With Trevor Asserson, one of Natie Branding Agency’s many wonderful clients.