working towards great client service

Trust: Key To A Strong Client-Agency Relationship

By Cao Thanh Ha

An agency-client relationship is described as a marriage life in which the main ingredient is the unwavering trust (Sweeny 2012). Trust, in fact, is fundamental for every relationship and it must be continuously built starting from day one. A client-agency relationship with great trust will help the business to run smoothly for both parties. Consequently, without trust, an advertising agency will face difficulties such as when clients do not approve their ideas, or when clients request for many rounds of presentation for just one project, etc. Such long complicated process often does not leave much motivation for the agency’s people to happily complete the project. Moreover, trust does not only affect the agency but also the client. Client without much trust on the agency often faces difficult times in judging and evaluating agency’s works. Eventually, the lack of trust makes both parties unable to proceed or move forward with the project, which becomes a waste of everyone’s time, efforts and even money.

Standing on an agency perspective, Mr. Joe Teoh, Associate Creative Director at Cheil Vietnam has offered a few tips on how to build and maintain client’s trust. With almost 20 year of experience working in advertising agencies including Y&R Malaysia, Grey Malaysia, Redworks Hong Kong and JWT Vietnam, Mr.Teoh has built his skills and techniques in dealing with clients and making them trust him and his creative team.

When being asked what causes client to not trust the agency, Mr.Teoh answered that it could be clients have already had specific ideas in mind that it is not easy for them to accept new ideas which are from a totally different approach or point of view; or in some other cases, it could be clients do not have the ability to judge the big picture and keep insisting that their idea is doable, or it could simply be because they are new clients and they do not know much about the agency.

In order to build client’s trust by proving that agency, creative team in particular, has the ability to provide professional and creative solutions, there are two stages of the trust building process.

Stage One: To Build Client’s Trust At The Beginning Of The Relationship

When working with new clients, it is essential not to say NO to them at first. “No one likes to be refused. Doing what they like will only allow the creative department, the whole agency to run smoothly”, Mr. Teoh explained the initial step to get to clients.

When being asked how he could deliver good creative ideas if he did not say no to unreasonable suggestions or ideas from clients, Mr. Teoh provided a further explanation that in a lot of cases, clients will request creative team to have few ideas ready before meeting. The team will take their time to get ready and present to clients. “It is very likely that the ideas would be rejected because we are new in the agency and we do not know what the clients like or don’t like”, said Mr. Teoh. To avoid such situation, Mr. Teoh often invited clients to the agency’s WIP meetings (Work In Progress). In those meetings, both agency team and client team will sit down for brainstorming session. The creative team will cleverly lead the ideas on their own directions and leave questions like “What do you think about this idea?”, “Do you have any another suggestion?”, or “We would love your input in this” for clients to response. With such involvement, it will make clients feel that they are part of the ideas making and for believing so, “it is impossible for them to say no to the ideas anymore because it is partially their ideas now. ”, added Mr. Teoh. When the first few jobs are successful, it is when clients’ trust has been initially built.

Mr.Teoh strongly stated that even when the trust has been built, it is still very crucial that the agency maintains regular WIP meetings with clients. The sudden stop of involvement will easily cause client’s concerns. “It is the long-term trust relationship that we aim to build”, said Mr.Teoh.


Figure 1. Reproduced from The Outside View Blog 2012

Stage Two: To Maintain Client’s Trust

Even when the client-agency relationship, in this particular case, client-creative team relationship is stable, it is very important for the creative team to occasionally wow the clients. By wow, Mr. Teoh means impressing clients that the creative team fully understand the client’s business, is very into the jobs and passionate about what they are doing. It could be immediately provide other solutions and references based on client’s comments, quickly come up with new strategies after the first ideas were rejected.

It is easier said than done to instantly come up with new strategies. Therefore, Mr.Teoh recommended to always be prepare and stay ahead of the game, “When clients want three ideas to be presented in the next meeting, always be sure that you have one or two extra ideas in mind. The extra ideas do not need to be the best ideas but by doing so, it shows we are still thinking and putting efforts on the job”, added Mr.Teoh.

Figure 2. Reproduced from The Outside View Blog 2012.

When the agency has successfully built trust, clients will find them as a trustworthy partner for almost every creative decision. Mr. Teoh said there were a lot of time when clients had hard time to decide on options of director, photographer, wardrobe, or location, once agency has gained enough trust, clients will find it easier to approve agency’s professional recommendations.

Last but not least, there are a few essential tips that he believed every person in either account servicing or creative department need to keep in mind: Never overpromise and/or oversell.  “No one could trust us anymore if we can’t deliver what we promise, right?”, Mr.Teoh continued, “It not only damages the relationship we had, but also affects my own reputation, which is unacceptable”.

To conclude, Mr. Teoh ensures that there are many other tips on how agency builds client’s trust but it should be used based on certain circumstances. Nevertheless, the most important tip of all is to build up own reputation by keeping promises, delivering good creative works, maintain good relationship with previous and current clients, etc. because reputation is the best thing one could have to build and maintain trust with clients just like Amazon’s Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has said “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well” (Business Week 2004).

Proof of life

Word Count: 1084


Bloomberg Business Week 2004, ‘Online Extra: Jeff Bezos on Word-of-Mouth Power’,, 1 August, viewed 27 August 2012, <;

Sweeny, D 2012, ‘Respect, Trust Key to Healthy Ad Relationship’,, 19 January, viewed 27 August 2012, <;

Teoh, J 2012, interview, 15 August.

The Outside View Blog 2012, ‘The Truth in Advertising: A Best Practice For Managing Ad Agency – Client Relationships’, image,, viewed 27 August 2012.


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One thought on “Trust: Key To A Strong Client-Agency Relationship

  1. Good new info regarding WIP and staying ahead of the game. Trust is really about anticipating clients not ‘trusting’ you. ~Mel C

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