What kind of a client are you? Naughty or nice?

In the same way marketers check-out potential agencies before they think about working with them, make no mistake – agencies do the same thing. And corporate reputations go a long way to help agencies understand whether clients will be a good fit within their agencies and their respective roster of clients.

Why?  Aren’t agencies just lucky to have clients and lucky to have clients who pay their bills?

Sure, revenue is important – but it’s only one aspect of new business for agencies.  While agencies will typically be looking for a cultural fit just as much as the marketer that’s searching for a new agency, they’ll also be looking at the opportunity the client represents.  Is this a creative opportunity?  An opportunity to help shape or launch a new brand or products?  Or is it a strategic opportunity to improve process and drive sales?

Revenue, profitability, cultural fit, size, location, opportunity and availability all play a role in an agency’s decision to participate in a new business pitch process, and whether you’re the right client for them if they’re chosen.

While most marketers and agencies understand that both sides have their own idiosyncrasies, your corporate reputation around how you treat agencies will precede you, and can weigh heavily for or against you depending on whether you’ve been naughty or nice (year round).

So if you think all agencies would kill to work on your business, take a moment to think about whether your ears have been burning recently, and what your agency might really say about you if asked?

Here are some of the warning signs that agencies will be wary of if you’ve not been as nice as you could have been:

One-way dialogue

If you’re a client that doesn’t like feedback look out.  Feedback is not only important to the health of an agency relationship, it also sets the stage for how agencies present, provide insight and rationalize recommendations. Good agencies don’t say “yes” all the time or always agree with your points of view, and good agencies will likely shy away from clients who have a reputation for not wanting dialogue.

No manners

Marketing has never been tougher. The demand for results, the demand for proof points to ROI, complex media ecosystems and the rapid advances in information technology make life stressful for all marketers. If you’re not good at saying “thank you” or “sorry I’m late” when the situation demands it, think about whether you’d like to work for a company or boss that treated you the same way. Not a fun place to work and agencies won’t like it either.

High staff turnover

High staff turnover is another red flag. If you can’t keep your staff at your organization, agencies will want to make sure that whatever’s eating your team won’t eat theirs. If you’re losing team members, make sure you understand what’s really causing it before you look to a new agency to help you out.

Frequent agency reviews

Agency reviews are hard work, stressful and disruptive for both marketers and agencies. From an agency point of view, winning or losing a piece of business has implications around space, resources and other investment that can make or break agency P&Ls.  Agencies don’t want to staff up or find extra space, only to see a newly won client walk out the door a year later.  If you’re undertaking frequent agency reviews – be prepared to defend and justify your reasons.

The work sucks

Most agencies will try and convince you they can do a better job than your incumbent agency.  But if the work really sucks and you’ve been running it for some time, agencies will ask why you’ve allowed the work to appear for so long and indeed how you allowed it to run in the first place. Is it really just your incumbent agency?  What was your role in the development of that work?

Payment terms

We’re constantly perplexed by marketers who set payment terms at 90 days or higher. Personally, I’m very vocal about not accepting those kinds of terms. Why? I’m not a bank. And agencies aren’t banks either. If you’re setting terms at 90 days or higher, expect agencies to think twice.

The industry says so

The marketing community is a small place – particularly in Canada, and particularly when you localize it to any given city around the globe.  And social media only makes the global marketing community even smaller. If you’re less than pleasant to deal with – word will circulate that you’re not the best client to business with.

I won’t comment on who else knows whether you’ve been naughty or nice, but trust me on this – if you’re a marketer about to call an agency review – your chosen agencies are going to be asking others what they think before you walk in the door.

How do you play nice with your agencies – even when things get tough?


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

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