June 25, 2009

How to get clients in a digital age

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Getting back to the original inspiration for this blog, the David Ogilvy book Confessions of an Advertising Man, the next chapter I should really cover is “How to get clients”. I saw an interesting example of attracting clients when I was working in London during the 80s. My boss, a stunningly attractive and brilliant lady I won’t name, stood up at the end of a new business meeting with a client. Her skirt fell off revealing her underwear in what only can be described as a Benny Hill moment. She was mortified – the client… delighted. I’m not saying that’s a good way to get clients but I guess in today’s economy all tactics are welcome.

When he started, Ogilvy would tell new employees that “ this is a new agency, struggling for its life. For some time we will be overworked and underpaid”. With this approach he was able keep the agency running while trying to attract clients which traditionally only went with the bigger established agencies. In his book, David Ogilvy tells the story of John Orr Young (founder of Y&R) offering this advice to manufacturers in search of an agency: “It is easy to be beguiled by acres of desks, departments, and other big agency appurtenances. What counts is the real motive power of the agency, the creative potency”.

Although more than 40 years old those comments from a different age are still relevant for agencies working in the realm of digital communications. Even his description of start-ups is highly accurate when looking at today’s agencies. “The life cycle of an agency – starts by being ambitious, full of dynamite and doing great work. The years pass, the founders get rich and tired – the creative fires go out.”

No matter how big or small a digital agency is it needs to keep that hunger. Here are a few tips gathered from around the web that can help any agency get out there and attract the clients they really want:

Make it personal

Clients want to know the people who will be working on their business. Chemistry is important when selecting a digital agency. It is important for clients to understand who will be managing your account and in particular what their level of experience is. People in the digital marketing business are usually a passionate bunch and anyone a client meets should have that drive mixed with a good dose of common sense. Many clients can be wary after their earlier experiences online. They still remember the dot com days when over-enthusiastic agencies sold them seats on the latest bandwagon. Many clients want vision but wisdom is just as valued.

Know their business

Ogilvy wrote, “There is no excuse for not knowing a client’s business. Use the product or find someone who does. Look at the ads and other marketing materials they have created: theme lines, logos, signs, telemarketing scripts, brochures, videos, catalogs, newsletters, Web sites, direct mail letters, postcards, posters, and even postcard mailers”. A powerful agency asks questions, listens to answers, engages in tireless research, and never stops learning.

Be neutral

Don’t try and sell a purely digital campaign to a client if you believe that traditional media would do a better job. Talk about powerful ideas that answer business needs rather than the latest cool techniques.

Think about results

In today’s climate companies are looking for agencies that can affect sales.

Ogilvy said “I always showed prospective client the dramatic improvement that followed when Ogilvy took accounts from old agencies – in every case we have blazed new trails, and in every case sales have gone up”.

One of the key benefits of online marketing is measurability – tell clients that you will be open and transparent.

Size doesn’t matter

A smaller agency may not bother pitching for a client when bigger agencies are on the list. Talented people at the helm of small agencies are likely to have more experience than the mid-level staffers that would be assigned to your account at a big firm. Services not offered by the agency can be outsourced, and scale can be bought. It’s the attention and ideas that matter. If you are a small to medium sized organisation chances are you will not be a priority to a large agency – thus will not receive the attention your account deserves.

Go outside your comfort zone

Just because a client operates in a sector in which you have little experience doesn’t mean that you won’t be selected. Cross-pollination of ideas gained from working across a variety of industries can be a real benefit. Every industry is unique, but they all share common characteristics. Often what we learn serving a client in one industry triggers a fresh idea for a client in another.

Does the client know what he needs?

When you meet your client you should try to find out quickly if he really knows what he wants. If not you’ll be trying to hit a moving target.

Are they looking for an agency that can develop strategy or just be an expert at execution? Does he seek company that likes to have fun or one that’s all business? Someone to take orders or someone who will challenge their thinking?

Know more than your client. Follow the latest trends and have an opinion about them

It’s hard to be an expert in everything but clients are expecting digital agencies to know more than they do. Key trends in digital marketing are emerging all the time. Ensure that the people in your agency are up to date with the latest trends. Make sure they know how to develop these trends – for example social networking and blogging. This way you can stay one step ahead of your competitors. Make sure you’re engaging with some of the more popular emerging digital media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, widgets, video, mobile, new types of banners etc.  Know all about brand platforms underpinned by technology such as Nike+ where technology and utility are used as the backbone in building brands.

Digital thinking doesn’t stop at the computer so has your agency embraced mobile, in-store and out-of-home as essential components of digital lifestyle?

Agency staff should at least be engaging with the new media and technologies to be able to best advise their clients. Who is blogging in your organization or speaking at events?

Practice what you preach

If you are offering your marketing or design services to a client make sure that your own company shows how to do it right. Does your staff utilize new technologies and media? How does you agency use digital marketing to build your brand, connect with clients and the industry or attract new clients and staff?

One final tip from David Ogilvy – Don’t hide the “chinks in your armour”. If you try to claim expertise in an area where you lack the skill you’ll be quickly found out. Better to play on your strengths then find the right partners to fill in the gaps. That way your client gets a tailor-made team for his needs rather than having to make do with the skills you have in-house.

Clients want to be wowed with ideas and intelligence. I once tried to win a pitch with a confetti bomb hidden in the room that exploded at a key moment in the presentation. The ceiling came down and we didn’t win. Great thinking doesn’t need explosions. A great agency will blow a client away with smart ideas delivered by passionate & motive team of digital experts.