August 31, 2009

How to keep (digital) clients

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Back to the inspiration for this blog, David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man. Over time I’m looking at every chapter of his book and updating it for the digital age we live in. When writing about how to keep clients David says that the “seven-year itch is not confined to matrimony. It also afflicts the relationship between advertising agents and their clients”. When clients get bored with an agency they start looking elsewhere. Then if the worst happens and the agency loses the business they have to fire people who worked on that client. As David said, “advertising is probably the least secure of all careers”.

How do you hold onto your clients? Firstly by putting the best brains you have on the business and making sure they don’t neglect the client. It does help (as David says) to avoid clients with a record of regularly changing agencies. He also recommends keeping in contact at every level of a client’s organization with counterparts building strong relationships between client and agency. Something that should be a lot easier today thanks to email, Linkedin and intranets.

In today’s digital age there are other things to do if you want to keep your client coming back. Make sure you know more about the industry than your client. Sounds obvious but several times I’ve seen clients bring up some new technology or online campaign during a meeting that the agency has not seen. It’s hard to know everything that happens in our business but by creating an agency culture of research and sharing you can be sure that at least someone in your team knows something your client doesn’t. We need to continually inspire our clients by sending them reports of what’s new, how various trends are developing and what their competitors are doing. If budgets allow you can organize an event like the recent Digital Souk produced by Ogilvy London that showcased the latest digital developments.

angrymanOne thing guaranteed to generate discontent in clients is a disappointing experience with a campaign. When digital projects kick off it is so important to manage expectations. Some clients have trouble imagining the end product so do what is necessary to make them understand. Animated storyboards, white sites, customer journeys… they all help to guide the client to an understanding of what they are going to end up with. See how much planning went into the Get the Glass game to help the client understand how it would work. Add the fact that many digital productions are just one part in a bigger integrated campaign and things get more complex. This white paper from Creativity and HP has some great case studies on how projects were handled and clients made very happy.

Be careful what you say about clients or campaigns. I’ve heard stories of clients leaving meetings at an agency and riding the elevator with junior creative teams who they did not know. The junior guys (not knowing who these people were) starting ranting about how the client sucked. The business went down the elevator and out of the door. Today it is even easier for someone in the agency to vent their feelings online. Make sure your staff don’t blog or tweet their unhappiness because your client might end up seeing it.

Finally, David Ogilvy was proud to say that he used all his client’s products as a sign of respect and belief in their quality. When working on the Intel business years ago we could not present a mockup of a new website if it was framed in a Mac browser window (before Apple started using the devil’s chips). You may not be able to afford some of your client’s products but try to be as passionate about them as they are. When your client feels that you genuinely care about what you’re selling he won’t go looking elsewhere in a hurry.

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