Can Mr. Agency make friend with Mr. Client?
Mr. Huynh Quang Cuong, an 8-year experienced Account Director of Square, a member of Square Direct Communication Group shares his practical insight of client management from agency perspective towards developing personal relationship with clients. Can agencies become friends with clients? Mr.Cuong offers the flexibility to strike a balance between understanding clients well and becoming so close to them, in order to maintain a professional line between clients and agencies from the very first minutes meeting with each other.
“I’m being an open book now” – the interview starts with his willingness and openness to share all of his precious practical experiences collected throughout his eight years struggling with many difficulties, facing a lot of challenges and also enjoying bunches of happiness and achievements as a bridge connecting clients to his agency.
“An Account person is a bridge that connects clients to the agency”
From theoretical concepts…
Theoretically, client managers have to build a good relationship with clients, get close to them to understand both of their personal and professional requirements, in order to maintain a long-term relationship as a trusted partner (Solomon 2008).
However, once all goes well, the agencies and their clients may have friendships aside from business line; many veteran client managers agree that there would be a risk to their practice as the relationship would generate many social conundrums for both sides. Andrew Sobel (2009) also believes that agencies do not have to become friends with clients; however, it is essential to understand clients as individual human beings.
…to practical insights.
Mr. Cuong states that in this case theories match quite well with practice. From his own perspective, accommodating clients with the best business deal and offering good after-service cares may not perfect the client–agency relationship. However, a little intimate care for clients may make it. Having personal relationships with clients will probably give agencies more chances to win the contract from clients
However, “if the reality were that simple, there would be nothing called problems”, said Mr. Cuong, admitting the problem of going too close and personal in client–agency relationship. It sounds quite simple to make a theoretical statement on getting clients at personal level but still treating them at business standard. It would be problematic in practical situations, when both sides are somehow putting under the control of understandings and emotions that can push either clients or agencies away from their ability to make clear-headed advice.
How close is enough to have the most effective communication with clients? Throughout his career, Mr. Cuong has successfully dealt with the issue many times by his professional and experiences. Thankfully, he is willing to share his advice with enthusiastic freshmen.
Knowing the boundary of getting and using personal information.
It would be greatly impressive if agencies know clients’ personal characteristics and hobbies since human beings’ nature loves others to care about them personally. Giving a client her favorite kind of flowers on her birthday and reserving a dinner table at her favorite restaurant would make her satisfied with the agency’s care.
That little touching moment may unconsciously narrow the distance between the client and her agency, and make a big difference in positioning the agency at her top of mind whenever her work has a demand.
However, showing up at her private birthday party would be an extremely bad idea, except when clients invite the agency to come. Everything has its limit. Getting too much of anything is never a good idea.
Drawing a professional line between clients and agencies.
He emphasizes that he always sets a professional line from the very beginning of any client – agency relationships and never crosses that line. He suggests that a certain distance between clients and agencies helps remain the authority and prevents clients from seeing agencies as sisters, brothers or friends, instead of a professional. Once client managers have their fiduciary duties, the biggest responsibility would be to always put business issues ahead of personal considerations. “We could be friendly, instead of being friends”, said Mr. Cuong. Agencies therefore should be flexible to strike a balance between knowing clients as individual human beings and treating them as business partners to always give clear-headed advice.
“There should always be a professional line between clients and agencies”
(Image reproduced from Theoutsideviewblog, 2012)
Looking back at literature review, Mr. Cuong’s perspective is supported well by Fam and Waller (2008) that the weight of intellectual property would be often diminished by friendships and the distance between two sides should be professionally maintained. Adding more information, Mr. Cuong says that clients themselves also want to keep distance with agencies since it is much easier for them to criticize the quality of work without concerning to personal friendships.
Standing at both client and agency sides.
Sobel’s theory (2009) acknowledges the need of personal relationship in building trusted partnership. For Mr. Cuong, friendships and other closely personal relationships do not contribute that much in gaining trust from clients and building long-term relationships. Instead, he suggests agencies should not just think about their own benefits, but try to be in clients’ shoes and offer the best for both sides. It makes clients understand that agencies do not view them only as account number, that their personal information would not be approached to achieve trust and win contract, and that agencies see them as truly trusted partners. Mr. Cuong aims at gaining honesty between the two and always speaks up as much of the truth to clients as he can.
Networking is way better.
Last but not least, Mr. Cuong offers another perspective to look at personal relationships which is not getting deeper but getting broader, referring to the idea of opening the network with people we know, instead of staying with people we make friends with.
“Client managers have to be flexible and self-confident. Believe in yourself before convincing everyone else to believe in you”
In sum, understanding and approaching personal needs of clients while maintaining and balancing the professional line in between to be able to make clear-headed decisions seems to contradict each other, but it is how the reality works. Making friends with clients is not a good idea since in practice, every project has its own problems and crises, friend-to-friend communication therefore could not work at all. Clients have to protect themselves first. Thus, asking to make friends means that agencies and clients are giving each other a huge challenge.
Regretfully coming to the end of the interview, Mr. Cuong shows his empathy for difficulty of being inexperienced freshmen dealing with a sensitive aspect of client management. Mr. Cuong advises energetic freshmen to always be enthusiastic, flexible and self-confident. Everything needs time to train.
Word count: 1091
Ho Chi Minh City, 11 May 2012,
Postes by Do Thi Hong Trang
Fam, K.S & Waller, D, 2008, “Agency-Client Relationship Factors Across Life-Cycle Stages”, Journal of Relationship Marketing, vol.7, issue 2, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.
Theoutsideviewblog, 2012, “The Truth in Advertising: A Best Practice For Managing Ad Agency – Client Relationships”, image, Paperblog, 24 February, viewed 10 May 2012, < http://en.paperblog.com/the-truth-in-advertising-a-best-practice-for-managing-ad-agency-client-relationships-150089>
Solomon, R, 2008, “The Art of Client Service”, 1st edn., Kaplan Publishing, United States of America
Sobel, A 2009, All For One: 10 Strategies for Building Trusted Client Partnerships, 1st edn, Wiley, United State of America.