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Clients listen up – here is your code of conduct!

After seven years in a consultancy I have had some time to think about this and I am going out on a limb and say what you are not meant to say if you are in an agency – I think it is time someone developed a code of conduct on how clients should treat their agency and this is why.

At Red PR we pride ourselves on our customer service, we dedicate time at our conference each year to this very topic, it occupies the monthly account manager meetings and almost daily we discuss the best way to handle client situations to get the best outcome and results. A KPI for each person is even based on the success of their client relationships. But I have come to realise that very few clients actually put any thought into how to build a positive relationship, or get the best results from their agency.

I have always held the belief that we don’t work FOR our clients. They engage us because we are experts in our field and we work along side them to provide strategic value, like a solicitor or an accountant. But regardless of what the arrangement is, in every business relationship you should strive for the best and I don’t think enough thought goes into maximising the agency relationships from the client side. There is definitely a mentality that they pay us so that is enough, but on behalf of consultants around the world, it’s not. I pay my staff and that certainly isn’t enough to keep them engaged, motivated and achieving award winning results for me month after month, year after year.

Whoever said all clients are treated the same was lying. We try, but of course we have our favourites and it is usually the clients who let you know they appreciate your work, tell your team they were impressed when you have done a great job before they reflect on areas they would like to see improved, ensure you aren’t the last one to know important news about the business, take your advice on board when considering directions, remember to thank you in the thank you speeches at the event you have just organised on their behalf, are passionate about their brand which is infectious and once in a blue moon invite you to an event as their guest.

A heads up, the client who complains every meeting after you have achieved a ROI times 20, yells like a dictator, doesn’t listen to your professional opinion, says they would give you a 5 out of 10 after they have appeared on national TV which resulted in their sales tripling that month, goes away on holidays when they have an interview with a national magazine and forgets to tell you, expects you to be a brand ambassador but makes you pay for the products, is never the favourite client.

This non favourite client is usually the one that likes to keep you on your toes because they believe an agency will get complacent if they let you know they think you did a good job. A good agency is constantly wanting to better their last win and improve on the last campaign – no agency wants to lose clients, but do you mind parting ways with one that is super hard work and doesn’t appreciate your handy work…no.

[Client code of conduct Page 2]

Don’t get me wrong, we have come amazing clients that we love working with who get how imperative our service is to their brand and they appreciate what we do for their business. But over the years I have come to understand the mentality of an agency relationship and I get my incentive and motivation not from the client, but from the good job I know I am doing for their brand. If I was waiting for constant reinforcement I would be waiting a long time. This is something I have to constantly instill in my team because if you are looking for praise from your clients, unfortunately it is far and few between. However, sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times I tell them how impressed I am with their work, they really just want to hear it from the client. Out of 65 clients, last year we received two gifts, five cards and one Christmas lunch that the client paid for. Despite the fact we sent gifts to all and had about 40 client lunches in December. The clients stay around for years so they must be happy, but unlike the effort that goes into building a relationship with your internal team, your external team is often forgotten about, yes even in the season for giving. Yes we are expected to be one of the team, an important part of the business, but we aren’t treated that way in all cases.

So in an effort to educate clients on how to get the most from your agency, here are a few basic tips.

  1. If you think they have done a good job, tell them, they will be even more motivated and work harder for you – Only hearing from clients when they wish to complain is disheartening.
  2. Show your appreciation, even if it is just sending a positive email.
  3. If you want them to walk and talk your brand, maybe you could allow them to sample your brand, or even offer a discount on product, which would make sense if you really treated them like part of your team.
  4. Wish your agency a Merry Christmas in some way and give them feedback on the year passed and what you hope to achieve together in the year ahead.
  5. Don’t ever pull the “I am the client and the client is always right”. Any agency worth their two cents will give you advice that is best for your business, not just the popular answer you might want to hear. You won’t get the best direction for your business if they are just pissing in your pocket.

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Fleur Madden-Topley

Fleur Madden-Topley

Fleur is managing director of <a href="http://www.redpr.com.au">Red PR</a> in Brisbane and Blue by Red PR in Sydney. She started her career as a journalist and Red PR was born out of the necessity for public relations professionals to deliver quality work and exceed both their clients’ and the media’s expectations. In seven years, Red has become one of the most respected lifestyle PR agencies in Australia. In 2008, it was the first Australian agency asked to partner with PROI, the largest global group of independently owned agencies.

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