Finding a client is often a lesser challenge; keeping them is the greater.
When you are in a service industry such as advertising, you can usually keep a client by consistently delivering good work that presents an agreed message to that client’s target market in a compelling and cost-effective manner.
Of course, personal empathy comes into it, as well.
But, what happens when all that is not enough? What happens when the client has a view contrary to that of the agency? Maybe the client is rejecting work that the agency is passionate about and, more importantly, can be supported by solid commercial and creative argument.
In short, what happens when the agency believes it is right and the client is wrong. It is, unfortunately, a common dilemma in an advertising world where subjective judgement is unavoidable.
So, when it does occur, what is an agency to do? In one notable case in which I was present at, the art director punched the client. But that is not recommended.
My view is that in the end, it is the client who is paying the bill and also has the ultimate responsibility for his company’s success or failure. So, the agency has a simple choice—either give the client what he wants or walk.
But there are ways to avoid getting to that point, particularly if the agency and client have a long, and thus far, positive relationship.
First, let’s examine the degree of disagreement. If the client just wants to tinker around the peripherals, there is probably no great harm in that. Suck it up, don’t be precious. If it is a complete rejection, the first question is to ask yourself is how strongly do you believe in what you are presenting and be honest. Second question is; does what the client is saying have merit—and, again, be honest.
First suggestion I would make is, if you can, give yourself time to think about those questions. An outright and immediate rejection or acceptance of a client’s demands are rarely warranted and almost never required.
Give yourself time to think.
If having done that and you still want to hold your ground, do so. It is after all your reputation that could be at stake—and don’t mistake that for personal ego.
There are ways to say no to a client, without saying no. First is to give the client and his views the consideration of consideration. That’s why you should give yourself time to go away and, as you can tell the client, think about what they are saying.
Then, even if you are coming back with a no, make it a pacifying no. You don’t have to compromise your creativity, but it is rare to have anything that can’t be tweaked or modified to hopefully mollify the concerns a client may have. Usually, it works best when you can preface it with, “Thinking about what you said, I think…”.
It can work. If it doesn’t, well—there are some hard decisions to make.
But here is the thing—the greater thing—it is the relationship that needs constant work—not the work itself. It is more important to maintain a positive, productive, and collegial relationship with your client in which hopefully, you can work as a team, meeting agreed objectives, and even having a bit of fun along the way.
If that kind of relationship exists, any disagreements along the way (and they are inevitable), can be short-lived with no residual ill-will.
If on the other hand, the relationship is persistently confrontational and deteriorating, then it is probably in everyone’s interest to make a clean separation.
However, the real work to be put in, and put in from the start, is to stop it ever getting to that point. Bit like any marriage, really.