Complacency — It’s Real

Full disclosure: I worked on the same client for approximately 12 years. In the agency world, that’s an eternity. There were a lot of highs and a few lows — that’s normal for any agency-client relationship. What’s not normal is working on the same client for so long. PR agencies seem to convince themselves that extended continuity on a client is a selling point or a badge of honor — while other agency partners outside the PR space seem to change out people every six months.

It’s a double-edged sword. Continuity and long service on a piece of business allows for intimate knowledge into a client’s innerworkings and desires, but at the same time, it allows account teams to fall into the dreaded trap of complacency.

We work on the same pieces of business and deal with the ebbs of flows of working with clients. They can be fantastic, fulfilling relationships — usually sprinkled with a dash of frustration and tongue biting. Client work can end up taking you to trade shows, far-flung locales, crazy events and everything in-between. But after the dust settles, you’re back to the status calls, client meetings and brainstorms. It can — and does — get repetitive.

It’s usually a slow deterioration. You send new recommendations that your team is excited about. You’re armed with insights and research backing up your ideas. Your team nails it in the room. But for whatever reason, the client passes. You plead your case (or not) and lick your wounds. And you keep trying and trying. But then you make a standard recommendation because you know it’s going to get approved. And it does. This is the beginning of the slippery slope.

I’ve talked with coworkers about giving clients what they need versus what they want. It’s hard when you try to advocate for your agency’s ideas and they get shot down. Why keep fighting? Why keep pushing your clients when you know they won’t approve something? Because it’s what we need to do. However, there are other approaches we need to take to ensure teams do not start mailing it in on their clients’ behalf. We must:

  1. Change out team members on a regular basis. Workers get bored and frustrated with clients. We need to keep client teams fresh and invigorated.
  2. Don’t get frustrated. If you throw 100 ideas at a client, the 99th may be the one they ultimately choose. Continue to be proactive and informed about your clients’ challenges so you can anticipate their needs.
  3. Broaden your scope of information sources — in this day and age, your worldview is hyper-cultivated to fit your beliefs. Open your mind to different strains of information — it will help you in the end.

Ultimately, for a truly successful client-agency relationship, the client needs to be on board. Clients need to be open to fresh ways of thinking and welcome new agency team members. They need to arm agency partners with the information, background and insights to ensure on-strategy recommendations and a healthy, long-lasting relationship.

This piece was written by Adam Scholder, SVP of Client Service at Wye Communications. With more than 20 years of experience working in public relations, Adam is a communications generalist by choice, and enjoys working on companies, brands and products he finds stimulating and challenging. Find out more about Wye Communications at http://www.wyecomm.com/.