“We need more than a work that sells”
I met my interviewee for the very first time at a book cafe in district 5. Very different from what I had imagined about strict and hard-to-please people from the “dark side”, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao is a very friendly and open lady. Before joining Perfetti van Melle (PvM), the world-famous confectionery manufacturer, as an Assistant Marketing Manager, Thao had been a Senior Account Executive at Blue Ocean Communication. Having worked for some agencies before joining the client’s side, Thao has experienced the best and worst of both worlds. “I don’t think I am an expert in client-agency relationship, but I’m sure I can help you out a little bit,” Thao replied with a smile when I told her about the topic for the interview.
Picture 1: Ms. Thao and me (taken with the help of the waitress)
Owning different brands of candy and gum like Mentos, Alpenliebe or Chupa Chups, PvM needs the help from many agencies to promote their products to Vietnamese consumers. The company is now a retained client of ZenithOptimedia, which is in charge of media planning and buying. Besides, PvM will assign a specific project to a suitable agency depending on the characteristics of the campaign and the expertise of that agency.
Normally, the relationship between client and agency starts with one single campaign. “At first, we sign the contract with agency on project basis. This allows us to have more flexibility. If we are satisfied with them after several projects, we will consider making them our long-term partner. Otherwise, we can go to another agency.”
Picture 2: Partnership is wanted by both client and agency
(reproduced from Myers n.d)
According to Fam and Waller (2008), a good partnership between client and agency is mutually beneficial. It is much cheaper for agency to retain current customers than acquiring new ones (Slater & Narver 2000), while the client can save time and effort searching and adapting to a new agency (Fam & Waller 2008). That is why a long-term deal is desired by both sides. However, any dissatisfaction can cause contract termination and agency switching (Durden, Orsman & Michell 1997).
It is clear that the agency must keep their clients happy and satisfied in order to retain them. But, what are the criteria for “satisfaction” exactly? To answer my question, Thao points out that there are 3 aspects that can affect the client’s decision.
“First and foremost, we need to look at their work and evaluate its effectiveness. We need to see whether the agency can help us to achieve our marketing goals or not.” There is no point treating the client nicely and then give them a so-so solution. Solomon (2008) agrees that in advertising, the work means a lot. A good work, defined by Thao, is refreshing and practical idea that can make the consumers reach their pocket. After all, the ultimate goal of all clients is the return-on-investment and the profits. Hence, it is crucial for the agency to prove that the client has put their money in the right place.
Picture 3: The client wants an idea that can make them profits
(reproduced from Yohn 2008)
The agency’s contribution to the client’s marketing success is a key factor in relationship development and maintenance (Waller 2004). If the agency manages to deliver a great work that meets, or even exceeds client’s expectation, in the first time working together, chances are that they will be called again for another project (Sobel 2009).
The work is important, but it is a mistake to think that it is the only thing to satisfy client. “Besides the actual work, working process matters too. If you can make your client happy and comfortable working with you, you will have a big plus in getting another deal.” Problem-solving skills, proactivity and professionalism are anticipated from the agency. “Our department has to manage many campaigns at the same time. We cannot get stuck at one for too long, so the cooperation from the agencies is highly appreciated.”
As an assistant manager, Thao has to constantly contact the agencies to check the progress of the projects. That means making endless phone calls, e-mailing back and forth, or even personally coming to the agency’s office to debate or to solve some problems occurring. “Sometimes I wish they will come to me rather than wait for me to check on them.” It is understandable that when the deadline is near, the customer gets nervous, and they will contact the service providers for assurance that everything is on the right track. Therefore, the agency can proactively inform the customer about the progress on task, which can massively enhance the service experience and save time and cost for both sides (Price & Jaffe 2008).
While the 2 aspects mentioned above require the effort of the agency as a whole, the last factor relies largely on the skill sets and expertise of the account people as they play a critical role in building client’s satisfaction with the agency.
“What makes a great account executive that you would love to work with?” – I asked. “Attentive, open and understanding. Tolerant, even. And be a good listener,” replied Thao. “I was in their shoes. I know how it feels having a terrible client, so I always try to be a good one by giving clear demands and response. However, sometimes I am unable to do so because the directions from my boss are not clear to me either. Honestly, you cannot always expect clients to tell you exactly what they want, because quite often they do not know themselves. That is why an account person needs to be understanding and flexible.”
Picture 4: Listen and understand your client
(reproduced from Atherley 2013)
Waller (2004) believes that if both the client and the agency are sensitive to each other, the relationship between them can be improved. Also, the openness and genuineness of the account executive can leave a positive impression on the client (IPA 2013). Price and Jaffe (2008) points out that if the frontline staff, which are the account executives in this case, are friendly and helpful, the customers are likely to forgive small mistakes or inconvenience.
Client retention is a challenging task that goes beyond the delivery of a creative work, but it is worth striving for. The communication industry in Vietnam is still small, but that does not mean that it is not competitive. Retaining clients is the best way to secure the prosperity of the agency. That is why the agency must always keep the client satisfied with their service in order to maintain the partnership. “At the end of the day, if your client tells you that they have had a great time working with you, you are one step closer to getting the long-term deal.”
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Fam, KS & Waller, D 2008, ‘Agency–client relationship factors across life-cycle stages’, Journal of Relationship Marketing, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 217-236.
IPA 2013, ‘How to be a good client’, Marketing Magazine, 2 September, viewed 5 September 2013, <http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/article/1208898/good-client>.
Price, B & Jaffe, D 2008, The best service is no service: how to liberate your customers from customer service, keep them happy & control costs, Josey Bass, San Francisco.
Slater, S & Narver, J 2000, ‘Intelligence generation and superior customer value’, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 120-127.
Sobel, A 2009, All for one: 10 strategies for building trusted client partnerships, John Wiley & Son Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.
Solomon, R 2008, The art of client service, revised and updated version, Kaplan, New York.
Waller, D 2004, ‘Developing an account-management lifecycle for advertising agency-client relationships’, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 95-112.
Myers, M n.d, ’10 ways to ensure successful agency-client partnership’, image, Palio, viewed 5 September 2013, < http://www.palio.com/10-ways-ensure-successful-agencyclient-partnership/>.
Yohn, DL 2008, ‘Selling ourselves’, image, Deniseleeyohn.com, 13 October, viewed 5 September 2013, < http://deniseleeyohn.com/bites/2008/10/13/selling-ourselves/>.
Atherley, S 2013, ‘Client-facing skills: Simon’s top 10 tips for success’, image, SimonAtherley, 20 January, viewed 5 September 2013, < http://www.simonatherley.co.uk/client-facing-simons-top-10-tips-for-success/>.