HOW TO STAY COOL WITH A HOT CLIENT?
Words by: Le Do Thuy Tu
Imagine you are now an account executive of an international communication agency. Do impressive pitches within many creative offerings help you win a new client? Besides business discussions, do informal conversations with clients help you develop and maintain client-agency relationships? Yes, they do. But these factors are not enough to keep client-agency relationships from termination – your worst nightmare, especially when clients have more choices towards the increasing diversity of international communication agencies in Vietnam.
I have a chance to meet Mr. Le Trung Tin, Market Research Manager of the Coca Cola Southeast Asia, to have more professional look about the lifecycle of agency-client relationships. Similar to Waller (2004), Tin agrees that client-agency relationships normally follow three main stages: agency selection, relationship development and maintenance and agency termination/ review. Along with his experiences of dealing with market research and advertising agencies, he reveals one main secret for account people to successfully stay attractive towards an international client like Coca Cola (Coke). The secret is to understand what elements clients most value in the first two stages of the agency-client lifecycle.
#1. Over-promise kills the pitch
Figure 1. Reproduced from: Coulter 2012
“Agencies, nowadays, tend to promise more than they can deliver”, says Tin. Similar to West & Paliwoda (1996), Tin emphasizes the ability of agencies in giving and keeping promises as the crucial factor to gain trusts from clients. To measure how agencies, especially the new ones, deliver their promises, Tin expresses that besides the agencies’ pitches, clients have many information sources to objectively evaluate the agencies. Specifically, Tin shares how he as a client of Coke form objective judgments to potential agencies before making decision of buying services from either an advertising agency or a market research agency. Echoing the concept of “Zero Moment of Truth” by Google (2011), social media and websites relating to the potential agencies are the information sources that Coke evaluates quality of their previous work and how the media and related publics comment about the agencies and their work. The client also ask other clients having done business with the agencies to learn about agencies’ services, their current workload and their workforce relating to relationships between their leaders and executives and the leaders’ involvement in the project management.
Figure 2. Reproduced from: Sacramento 2012
#2. Don’t test your client’s tolerance or you will get termination
Neither agencies nor clients want relationship break-up which triggers many issues regarding time, money, their business performance and leak of confidentiality (Davies & Prince 1999). Hence, for sustainable relationships, Tin shares that Coke usually forgives agencies’ mistakes unless low quality of services keep delivering for a long time. Indeed, the bigger a project is, the less tolerant Coke will be on agencies’ mistakes. Similar to Doyle, Jens & Michell (1980), changes in workforce and conflicts in the code of conduct are the second factors that such an international client like Coke show least tolerance. Tin recalls his experience with an agency changing their account team to lower experience ones who failed to deliver qualitative services; hence, destroying the client-agency bonds. Moreover, Tin asserts that since Coke tries to ensure to deliver legal, ethical, and moral standards to protect credibility of its business, they strictly require agencies to commit the same standards.
#3. Extra resources make closer partnership
Figure 3. Reproduced from: 123RF n.d.
“Clients are not bosses but partners to agencies. Long-term commitment and investment from both sides help consolidate the relationships”, says Tin. Similar to Davies & Prince (1999), Tin expresses that Coke is always willing to offer training courses for their agencies to build more knowledge in Coke’s business and to give them more long-term projects in response to their strong commitment through putting their best workforce and research sources on serving their client. He happily shares his experience with an X research agency. “Having a partnership with X means having an eye and an ear in the market”, he recalls. Specifically, the research agency always voluntarily supports the client with updated market situations relating to their business. This helps the agency to constantly provide accurate feedback and recommendations adding their service values to the client’s business.
Overall, if you, as an account person, set goals for each stage of the client-agency lifecycle, your goals would better match with what clients truly expect from you. Read clients mind to navigate your true abilities.
Figure 4. Proof of life
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123RF n.d., ‘Stock photo’, image, 123RF, viewed 10 January 2014, <http://it.123rf.com/photo_17997214_collaborare-per-la-crescita-come-un-accordo-di-affari-e-concetto-di-cooperazione-nel-successo-finanz.html>.
Coulter, J 2012, ‘Never overpromise and under deliver’, image, Truthful Testimonials, 6 September, viewed 10 January 2014, <http://truthfultestimonials.co.uk/2013/10/the-secret-to-getting-great-customer-testimonials-start-under-promising-and-over-delivering/overpromiseunderdeliver/>.
Davies, M & Prince, M 1999, ‘Examining the Longevity of New Agency Accounts: A Comparative Study of U.S and U.K Advertising Experiences’, Journal of Advertising, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 75-89.
Doyle, P, Jens, MC, Michell, P 1980, ‘Signals of vulnerability in agency-client relations’, The Journal of Marketing, pp. 18-23.
Google 2011, Welcome to the new mental model of Marketing, Google, viewed 10 January 2014, <http://v1.zeromomentoftruth.com/google-zmot-es.pdf>.
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Waller, DS 2004, ‘Developing an account-management lifecycle for advertising agency-client relationships’, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, vol. 22, issue 1, pp. 95-112.
West, DC, Paliwoda, SJ 1996, ‘Advertising client-agency relationships: the decision-making structure of clients’, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 30, issue 8, pp. 22-39.