Dazzle don’t dip


I interview hundreds of clients on behalf of agencies, either to monitor the health of existing relationships or to ascertain why an agency lost a pitch. These interviews are a treasure trove of useful advice so I’ve condensed some of this material into key points.

Developing Clients

1. Ask for business

Interviews often reveal an under-utilised client ally – ‘If they asked me to introduce them to X then I’d be happy to do that but they’ve never asked.’ Clients understand that agencies want to develop business so when you are not asking for introductions and enquiring about new opportunities, then clients can start questioning your levels of interest and ambition.

2. Don’t forget to preen

One client told me that she knew less about her incumbent agency than other agencies she had never worked with. Most clients appreciate a certain level of preening from their agency – client wins, awards, articles, case studies, newsletters. It communicates success, and helps educate clients as to your true skill set. There is nothing worse than being overlooked for projects that you are well capable of delivering.

3. Be consistent

Compared to professional services firms, design consultancies are notoriously inconsistent with events, seminars and newsletters. I recently interviewed clients of a leading law firm who all favourably mentioned the firm’s ‘Breakfast Seminars’. The firm had been running these for years, without fail. Compare that to the design consultancy newsletter that fades away after the third attempt or the one off event that seemed like a good idea at the time. Consistency is vital.

4. Be proactive

‘Be more proactive’ is a familiar client comment. They tend to view this in two ways. Firstly, being proactive within the project. This involves such things as flagging up a budget issue, not waiting for the client to bring it up, or pointing out a better route to achieving the same objective. Secondly, being proactive about the client’s overall business. This is about business generating ideas, monitoring your client’s competitors, making relevant analogies with other markets and sharing knowledge. A recent client comment was, ‘My agency obviously has lots of insights and learning from other markets but they don’t share it with me.’

5. Understand the organisation

Many agencies talk about getting under the skin of the brand. However, getting under the skin of the organisation behind the brand can be just as important for the client. When clients are asked to ‘list the things that the agency has to do well for you, the criteria by which you judge them’, ‘Understanding our organisation’ is one of the most common responses. This means the internal politics and culture of the organisation, knowing which battles to fight and which battles you will never win.

Winning pitches

1. What do you think?

Clients want to know what you think. If you are one third of the way into a presentation and you’ve only talked about yourselves, regurgitated the brief and replayed information that the audience already knows, then it’s too late. Give your views and opinions. It’s what the client is paying for. What is your core advice? State your big thought right at the outset. The rest of the presentation should prove that assertion.

2. Don’t be afraid to break the rules

It is uncanny how often the winning agency is the one that didn’t stick to the letter of the brief. They were the agency that showed the client another way of looking at the problem – ‘They went against what we’d said in the brief but the more we saw, the more we liked it.’ Most clients don’t just want brief takers. They want to be constructively challenged.

3. Don’t leave them confused

Highly intelligent presentations that raise lots of questions and issues are impressive but can run the risk of compounding client confusion. Clients find it easier to buy clarity and clear advice, so don’t leave them more confused than you found them.

4. Is it entertaining?

Not in a flippant way but is there an element of theatre, dynamism and panache? Marjorie Scardino, Chief Executive of Pearson, says, ‘These days there must be some degree of entertainment value in everything you do.’

5. Demonstrate thought processes behind creative concepts

Clients are used to seeing concepts that appear highly finished and sometimes it’s very difficult for them to truly appreciate the thinking behind a concept. Try breaking out of highly finished concepts into sketches and drawings to show how you got to that concept. Show a route that you started to go down and then rejected, and explain why you rejected it. Most clients want to buy into a rationale, not just the picture they like the most.

Jonathan Kirk