Step yourself into another’s shoes.You’re not gonna lose.
By Truong My Duyen- s3325086
Building and maintaining value-added relationship between clients and agencies has become more and more difficult. It is a process which requires both sides to invest time and effort to develop mutual understanding and become each other’s trusted partner. More importantly, great relationship leads to great work and vice versa (Solomon 2008).
A recent interview with Ms Amy Truong, assistant brand manager of Ponds at Unilever, who has been working for the company for 5 years has provided me with highly practical and interesting insights about her experiences in managing and dealing with agencies from the client’s perspective. Ultimately, the single most important lesson I learned from the interview is that the first step in building long-term relationship is to put yourselves in another’s shoes.
Understanding client’s dilemmas
A question popped up in my mind and I went straight to the point to ask her: Why do clients sometimes have to push agencies so hard and create a lot tight deadlines for them?
Amy made me realize that there are many reasons behind client’s controlling behavior and it’s the agency’s job to understand, empathize and manage. Amy asserted that clients do have their own dilemmas and difficulties. They are not intentionally unreasonable.
Client’s controlling behavior
She began by sharing that agencies often accuse clients of pushing them too hard and setting unrealistic deadlines on projects but do not understand that it is the increasingly fast-changing and demanding business environment that requires clients to do so.
“Most of the time, we have to be quick in order to launch a product sooner than our competitors. We sometimes need to run the ads or activation soon to drive traffic into supermarkets before special occasions. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing market shares to our competitors’, said Amy.
‘Therefore, we really expect agencies to respond quickly and flexibly to such changes and deliver effective work whenever we are in need’, she added.
Another difficulty that clients face is that they have to deal with multiple things and look at the big picture at the same time. For instance, ‘whether the agency’s work can increase sales and build brand preference, whether the ad work fits into the whole marketing campaign theme are always clients’ concerns’, said Amy
According to Amy, the reason clients disapprove or modify agency’s work many times is because their work does not fit into brand personality and the whole campaign. Additionally, brand team has another dilemma to stand from the perspective of consumers to judge whether the ad will get its message across.
To illustrate, Amy shared her personal experience in launching the latest Unilever’s product Ponds BB Cream 2 in 1- whitening and foundation. ‘Even though we emphasize the 2 in 1 feature in the brief, the agency came back with a concept that the product should mark a trend for fashionable young girls, which is irrelevant to the brand despite its creativity. Given that this is a new product, we have to educate its special features to consumers, the focus should not be about fashionable or dynamic girls’, she asserted.
What clients say is not what they really need
‘Good clients are very rare in Vietnam’, Amy admitted. ‘Most clients do not know what they truly want. They generally say in the brief that they want to sell stuffs and demand the campaign to be creative.’ For this reason, clients truly make agencies confused and view their expectations as unrealistic.
A good client is the one who communicates crystal clear their expectations and priorities. Similarly, a good agency is one who can dig deeply to figure out what clients really need as well as what they should do to achieve their goals effectively.
Amy emphasized the concept of “A True Partner” whom every client is pleasant to work with. She expects agencies to be her true partners who can proactively anticipate client’s problems, be accountable for their tasks and provide valuable inputs to business. Her sharing is consistent with Sebastian (2008), good client managers do not wait for their clients to give recommendations or directions; they are not order-takers but should be the one who make things happen. Amy prefers to work with those who can forecast and highlight potential issues in advance. Then when issues arise, she expects agencies to work with their team first to figure out solutions themselves and be prepared to present solutions when meeting with clients as proactivity in client relationship is the driver of client satisfaction (Beverland, Farrelly, Woodhatch 2007). While working on a project, agencies should ask the right questions and maintain conversations with clients to demonstrate to clients that they care about the service they deliver (Oade 2012).
In reality, most conflicts are caused by unclear and untrusting communication style of both sides. Amy remarked that there are times when clients only need A but say they need A,B,C,D,X,Y, Z in order to get more from agencies. In contrast, agencies can potentially deliver much more than clients expected but they say they can do only a small part.
I can understand from what she said clearly that both sides are not being honest and transparent to each other, which is the major cause of ineffective or broken relationships. She considered client-agency relationship as similar to romantic relationship and said that the reason couples argue or break up is because they do not understand each other enough or keep on hiding the truth.
I confirmed my understanding by telling Amy that the best way to reestablish a productive relationship is that we should communicate upfront and honestly about each other’s expectations during the ongoing process of cooperating and forming partnership. We have to put ourselves in another’s shoes and acknowledge that they also have difficulties like us since empathy and trust are essential building blocks for effective understanding, communication and relationships (Stevens 2010).
Listening and understanding
Amy agreed with me and advised that both sides should sit together and get expectations clearly committed to in writing or documents. ‘Write a checklist, agree on things each other should do, and do them all together. And since it’s all about business, remember to write things down’.
The interview with Amy Truong has broadened my horizons and provided me with significantly helpful insights into client’s viewpoints, which I believe agencies should get to know in order to appreciate the client’s dilemmas and deliver what they truly expect. Contrary to popular belief, the relationship between clients and agencies is not necessarily a battlefield. With an effort to empathize the other side’s difficulties and communicate transparently, both sides can gain mutual respect, meet expectations and build sufficient trust for long-term quality relationships (West & Paliwoda 1995).
After all, I believe that the client will remain the client and it is the agency’s responsibility to handle clients effectively under any circumstances. For agencies, the best way to gain trust is through the work, in which agencies should be proactive problem-solvers who can respond to client’s need timely and deliver what they have promised with integrity. For clients, they should communicate clearly their expectations and priority in order not to confuse agencies.
Proof of life
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Beverland, M, Farrelly, F and Woodhatch, Z 2007, ‘Exploring the dimensions of proactivity within advertising agency-client relationships’, Journal of Advertising, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 49-60.
Oade, A 2012, Managing challenging clients: Building effective relationships with challenging customers, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Solomon, R 2008, The art of client service, Kaplan Publishing, New York.
Stevens, D 2010, Briliant Customer Service, Pearson, London.
West, DC & Palidowa, SJ 1996, ‘Advertising Client-agency relationships: The decision-making structure of clients’, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 30, no. 8, pp. 22-39.