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True Lies: Fixing Agency Fibs, Part 1
By: Elizabeth Friedland
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I got a kick out of the Digiday article “The White Lies Agencies Tell Clients,” but it also rubbed me the wrong way. With solid communication skills and an atmosphere of honesty (yes, even when it’s uncomfortable), no agency should ever have to tell a client a lie — even a little, tiny white one.

Check out the original article here, and then read about how we PR agencies should handle each situation with honest and open dialogue.

The Lie: “That’s a great idea!”
The Truth: “Sometimes it’s tough telling a client that their idea stinks,” said one anonymous agency creative. “We’ll either have to improve their idea or come up with a much better one.”
The Fix: “That’s an interesting take. We’ve given this a great deal of thought internally, and here’s why we think another approach might serve you best.”

Sure, it’s touchy to tell a client you think their idea is horrible, but that’s also why they brought in the experts; they realize they don’t know it all. It’s our role as professionals to listen, yes — but at the end of the day, we have to provide the best advice we can. Tactfully, of course.

The Lie: “We can make that budget work.”
The Truth: “Sometimes budgets suck but the project is cool and we really wanna make the work,” said the anonymous creative.
The Fix: “At our standard rate, this scope of work is actually in the ballpark of $X. But let’s see what we can do for your budget, and where you might be able to make efficiencies or take some of this in house to reduce cost. We don’t want to lose the opportunity to work on this because of numbers.”

Budgets aren’t an issue when all parties are direct from the get-go, and it’s much better to address funds (or lack thereof) before an invoice is sent. There’s no shame in saying you can’t do the work for the price. Rather, tell the client what you can do, and advise how they can utilize their internal teams to bring down the expense.

The Lie: “Yes, all the agencies are working really well together — we’re a fully integrated team.”
The Truth: “Most of the time the various agencies — planning, media, creative — don’t like each other and have no idea what each other is doing,” admitted an agency employee.
The Fix: “Admittedly, it can be a bit tricky, but we’re doing X, Y, and Z to make it more beneficial for everyone.”

Outline clear expectations, deliverables, and processes with the agency teams to avoid misunderstandings from the get-go. But then let go of your ego; remember that if one agency partner fails, everyone fails. The goal is common one.

The Lie: “Your account is the agency’s No. 1 priority.”
The Truth: ”We’d say that to all of our clients,” said an agency staffer.
The Fix: “Here’s where your account falls in our roster in terms of size.”

Agencies should be transparent, and it’s silly to make a secret out of account standing. If you’re adequately staffing the account, delivering the work you promised, and giving the client the attention they deserve, telling them they’re the smallest or largest name on the roster makes no difference. A happy client is a happy client, regardless of size.

The Lie: “We need a little more time to make it just right. It’s almost there, and when it’s done you will really like it.”
The Truth: ”This one is used so many times for so many reasons,” explained the ad creative. “Either it stinks and we have started over, everyone likes it except management and we need to start over, or everyone is working on other clients’ stuff and at the moment, yours is less important.”
The Fix: “After checking with our traffic manager, our estimated deadline is XX.”

Again, this jam is easily fixed with honesty. Setting realistic expectations on turnaround time is essential to helping the client work with your team, so don’t be afraid to let them know what is reasonable, what can be rushed for an exception, and what just isn’t possible.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of True Lies: Fixing Agency Fibs!


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About the Author
Elizabeth Friedland in Senior Digital Strategist, specializing in PR, at Hirons Advertising & Public Relations. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about her, visit www.elizabethfriedland.com.
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