Ten things I learned about clients (aka people)

Some of them I learned the hard way, some I learned through less painful means like great bosses. Most of them were cemented once I stepped away from account management into a strategy & research role at Current Forward.



  1. Don’t get too comfortable: Just like any relationship, there’s a tendency to put your best product forward in the first three months. Of course, you’ll settle into a routine and earn trust, but ALWAYS view a core component of your job as bringing new ideas and people to the table. The risk of not having answers to big/emerging marketing challenges is much greater than the risk of appearing like you may not know your client’s business.

  2. Don’t race to please: It's tempting for agencies and Account Managers (AM) to say ‘how high’ when asked to ‘jump’, especially early on in the relationship. Know that it's harder to reset precedence than it is to take a harder line from the outset. This is especially true with scope creep and pricing. Just as you are negotiating with clients, clients are negotiating with internal teams. The expectations you set, trickle over to client teams and eventually your expectations will become a given one way or the other.

  3. Be a pragmatist: I’ve often fallen into the trap of operating in terms of how I think client/agency dynamic should work rather than how it actually works: a perfect balance of partnership, mutual respect, and appreciation for the work. Sometimes this the case, and sometimes the balance of power is out of whack and the best path isn’t attempting to ‘re-train’ the client. To help find your boundary, test the waters by resetting your weekly client meeting cadence for reactions. More often than not, if they are open to incremental process changes, more material change to the relationship is achievable.

  4. Avoid information embargoes: Bridging the divide between client and internal teams is the trickiest part of the job. It can be tempting to withhold client information like tough news for fear of response. The best way to combat this is to reduce the divide from the beginning. Keep yourself off the island by assembling a BOT team with your most trusted team-members that are a part of almost all convos except 1:1s. Everyone will feel more ownership over the work and client relationship which makes problem-solving a group exercise.

  5. Realize your role in their ecosystem: This one stands alone as the cardinal rule of agency business that gets broken most often. Clients sometimes don't get full credit for the breadth and depth of their job. They face a different set of challenges, of which marketing/advertising is one. Empathy and strategically-placed questions can go along way to decoding behavior from your partners.

  6. Don’t fall back on BS: Transparency is a much more sustainable approach to maintaining a relationship. If you can’t deliver on time, on budget, or on quality, a little transparency into what actually happened can go a long way. Nine times out of ten, your client will know you are full of it. Even worse, all nine of those times they won’t say anything and you’ll think you slipped out of a tough one unscathed. In general, keep in mind the majority of the impression your client has of your team is unspoken.

  7. One size doesn’t fit all: When I first started out, I thought every client had to be your drinking buddy. What I came to realize is that some clients want to be friends, some want a strategy partner, and some want in between. It's usually a combination of what's going on in their personal lives, and how much they hate or love their job. Its best to understand what your client wants out of your partnership and build from there.

  8. Find your common ground: I’m going to slightly contradict myself on the above point. Building a client relationship that goes beyond transactions makes everyone’s life easier. As a (once) younger, single man, I’ve always struggled to connect with clients who always seemed to be married with kids and on a different planet in terms of life stage. The best advice I got was to find something small to connect on and go from there slowly. And when in doubt talk about tv shows.

  9. Sell yourself, then your agency: Selling might not be the right word, but simply put, don’t compromise your integrity at the expense of agency deficiencies. It's your job to grow the account and bring in new types of work, but your reputation is more important in the long run. If you can’t coherently back up the numbers behind a scope or timeline, raise it internally first.

  10. Spread the word: Ultimately, you’ll be expected to answer for any and all decisions with your clients. However, don’t fall into the trap of speaking for all disciplines like many over-achiever account-types tend to do. Don’t be afraid to round up the team and get on a call quickly. When it comes time to negotiate scopes it's imperative clients can put a face (and value) with a name. Ultimately you’ll get more credit for growth this way.

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