Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Agency & Client Alignment

Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Agency & Client Alignment Purple Salix
Clients and Agencies are different animals (excuse the pun)!. In a sense it’s a little like Sales and Marketing – they are not used to walking in each others shoes. This general misunderstanding of what clients expect (or hope for) when they meet an agency results in significant opportunities to create additional revenue being left on the table

I am in the unusual position of having spent most of my career client side, but now find myself selling consultancy services to clients. But I’ve also had the opportunity to work with several marketing agencies and more recently provide them with more of a client-side perspective.

I use the term “Agency” loosely. These days everybody wants to sell to the Marketing department. As well as media agencies, marketing agencies we now find ourselves increasingly in conversations with various shades of technology supplier, all hoping to relieve us of our marketing budgets with promises of astonishing ROIs (always amusing, since most agencies don’t even have the visibility of the sales pipeline in order to even measure the ROI!)

Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with some great agencies and some great people within those agencies. Just to be clear – I do mean YOU. However I’ve also worked with a number of distinctly average people from both great and average agencies. For clarity – yes, I mean THEM! I also used get approached on a very regular basis by agencies wanting to get 30 minutes in my diary to explore how they might be able to help me.

So let me give you a few personal observations on my experiences in dealing with agencies of various shades over the years. If you are client side and can add some further observations, I’d love to hear from you. If you are in an agency, I’d be delighted if you want to get in touch – perhaps I can help…

(BTW – as I write this I am currently updating my iTunes library. That explains some of the headings and pictures)

That’s Entertainment

Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Agency & Client Alignment Purple SalixI used to despair when I looked at my calendar for the forthcoming week. I would protect a few hours to get some of my work done, but otherwise my day would be a succession of meetings and reviews with various stakeholders (mostly outside of the marketing function), conference calls, reviews and managing the odd crisis. All very internally focused. I had a 90 minute train commute into the office and that was my only way of keeping on top of my email. Gosh how I miss it all 🙂

One of the only things that kept me sane and fresh was interactions outside of the company – with clients, at conferences, or with agencies. But time was very limited so the default response to any approach had to be – “sorry I can’t make a meeting, but if you want to send me something I’ll probably ignore it”. 

Entertainment? Perhaps that’s not how you want to be seen – but in that case you had better demonstrate that you’re merely an interval between meetings.

That Don’t Impress Me Much

Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Agency & Client Alignment Purple SalixMost initial agency meetings went down a familiar path: Initial chit-chat, followed by presentation of the agency’s credentials deck, followed by a loose “so how could we help you” conversation.

I rarely felt this was a great use of my time. I wanted more than credentials. I’m not silly. I know that you will put, for instance, the Coca-Cola logo in your credentials even all that you did was design an internal email header 10 years ago. I get that – would probably do the same. That’s why I’m not impressed. Oh and  by the way – my business is nothing like Coke’s, so only focus on relevant client stories.


Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Agency & Client Alignment Purple SalixMy recommendation would be to move past all that stuff really quickly. More positive meetings occurred when someone did something that made me realise that this was not just another agency, and made me want to explore further. Think about the following:

  • What make you any different from every other agency I’ve seen this month? I’m looking to make a quick decision on whether we will ever have another meeting. No matter how affable I may seem – I’ve not invited you in for a chat.
  • Can you clearly articulate the breadth of your agency’s capabilities? I want to have relationships with as few partners as possible. That means I want to see understand what you can do beyond some nice creative. What value can you and your colleageues add to help ease my business pains. Otherwise I think you are just another creative agency, and that you are the only talent there.
  • Have you come to the meeting with a provocative point of view on something I really care about? Do you know what the key challenges are for a business marketing leader today? Have you researched to get a sense of my particular challenges and focus areas? Do you have specific capabilities that could help me address my key challenges? Do you share the passions I do?
  • Will you disagree with me? I don’t want an agency full of yes men. That simply means you will do what I want rather than what is right for the customer/market. If all I wanted was resource, I could have secured it much cheaper than talking to you. I want someone who has opinions and real insight – not just telling me what they learned in a 5 minute Google search.
  • Will you educate me? I like to learn about new approaches that I haven’t previously considered. Give me a fact or two that I might be able to use into one of  my next meetings. 
  • Can I talk to your clients? I was always keen to engage with other people in a similar position to myself on a peer to peer basis. If you can make some connections for me I have an immediate reason to start building a relationship.
  • What are the next steps? I used to be constantly surprised at how many initial meetings ended with a limp “I’ll call you again in a few weeks”. What are you going to do next? What do you want me to do next?  

Don’t You Forget About Me

Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Agency & Client Alignment Purple SalixOf course the meeting is just the first step. Just as important is the follow up and progress against the key actions – don’t let all the hard work to secure that meeting simply fizzle out. 
That’s my take on it based on my years in client side marketing leadership roles. If you can demonstrate that you understand my world, have a confident perspective upon it, and can offer me something tangible to progress the discussion – then you are already ahead of the pack.
What’s your views on the gap between agencies and clients in those critical first meetings? I would love to hear from you.

3 thoughts on “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Agency & Client Alignment

  1. Anonymous

    Great insights Pete. From a client perspective the relevant evidence and advice is critical. I always looked at in terms of how an agency can aid me in my day to day challenges, first deliver small gains quickly and then legacy programmes that support strategy . For myself moving to agency side very soon this would be a good model to follow. Thanks for posting this Pete. Jon Nation

  2. Mike Housley

    Brilliant insight and perspective Pete!

    Having worked mainly on the agency side here are my thoughts on the main considerations for agencies:

    Before the Meeting

    – Get your proposition right and be creative and persistent enough to get a meeting. Also use networking and referrals effectively – both online and offline.

    – Do your homework on the client, and their products and markets prior to the meeting. Prepare a taster of what you can bring to the party.

    At the meeting:

    – Ask how much time the client has so you aren’t cut short – also allowing you to tailor the content to the allocated time.

    – Encourage the client to give an overview of their business and objectives & areas of need at the outset. So that you can personalise and adapt your presentation accordingly

    – Succinctly go through your creds – skipping over irrelevant stuff and highlighting the things of relevance to the client.

    – Clearly differentiate your proposition and focus on relevant experience – and highlight the value you can offer. Provide evidence of innovation and thought leadership

    – Identify areas of opportunity and prioritise them with the client.

    – Agree next steps and get commitment to an action.

    – You’ve had the first date and now you’re on trial. ‘Servicing the Client’ to death starts here. That means rapid and professional follow up.

    Hope this helps. Comments welcome.

    Mike Housley
    Cyance Limited
    tel: +44 (0) 7912 733723
    twitter: @mikehousley

  3. Pete Jakob

    Thanks for these comments:
    @JonNation: Good luck with the move agency side. Keep me posted 🙂

    @Mike: All good stuff – there’s no rocket science here. Unfortunately we all tend to forget these basics. Thanks for the contribution


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