I don’t remember if it was explained to me in so many words. But one of the first and most memorable lessons I learned as a young account manager, back in the day, went something like this: One of the surest ways to lose a client is to always give them exactly what they ask for.
The obvious flip side of that is it’s the obligation of the agency to give clients more than what they ask for. It’s our responsibility to give them what they need. And sometimes that requires us to do what agencies everywhere are loath to do…say “no.”
The agency culture is built around saying “yes.” And it should be. Ours is a service business, after all, and we will do everything humanly possible to give our clients our best effort, often under very tight time constraints. Can you re-write and re-flow the copy, and have it to the pub this afternoon? Yes! Can you re-edit the spot, re-work the music bed, and have it on air tomorrow? Yes! Can you translate War and Peace from the original Russian, for a webinar in Spain? OK, well, maybe not that.
As important as it is to be uber-responsive, that isn’t what clients need most from us. We earn our keep on the “bigger” tasks – brand positioning, creative, designing an SEM campaign, and so on. In these areas we should be the experts, working in partnership with clients who are experts at their business. Most of the time, clients value the ying and yang of the client/agency relationship, and appreciate the perspective we bring.
But on occasion, a well-intended client will steer us down a path we don’t’ think is in their best interest. When that happens, it is our duty to speak up, even when it’s a little painful. We need to call a timeout and challenge ourselves – and our clients – to get it right. It’s worth the effort. Because at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that we get it right.
No doubt, it’s a heck of a lot easier to just say “yes.” But as someone once said, “if this business was easy, anyone could do it.”
Maybe it was the same guy who taught me that lesson, back in the day?