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July 4, 2009
What Agencies Need. Respect.
Too many clients don’t respect their agency’s thinking, expertise, creativity, or even the golden rule. How else to explain clients who discount strategic thinking and chew up and spit out agency ideas like chewing gum? How else to rationalize the way clients rewrite ad copy and attempt to art direct? How else to justify those nasty phone calls and unreasonable requests?
Ask yourself: Is the kind of client behavior you’re witnessing normal? Or, are we agency professionals being dissed? Yes and yes. True, clients are more demanding these days. Still, too many clients treat us as vendors, not trusted business partners. Let’s read that again, especially if you have “VP” on your business card. Too many clients treat us as vendors, not trusted business partners.
Alarming, isn’t it? I think so. The key is not to shrug this off as business as usual but rather to get agitated. It’s only when we get upset enough that we demand that we do something about it. So get mad. Then get busy.
Here are a few idea starters for getting more respect from your clients. Keep in mind I’m just one guy popping off here. My ideas are not sanctioned by my boss, my agency or the Queen of England.  
If you look up your agency in the Yellow Pages, you’ll see it listed in the section titled: “Advertising Agencies & Counselors.” Counselors??? That’s what we need to be! Counselors get listened to and are held in high regard for their wisdom. Remember Counselor Deanna Troi on Star Trek Generations? When she talked, everybody listened. So whether it’s account planning, an army of PhDs or super sleuths investigating key competitors, acting more like counselors would raise our status with clients. 

If clients insist on seeing us as vendors, not partners, let’s give them something from the vendor world—the rush charge. For example, if the client wants it done in 24 hours, let’s do it under the condition that a surcharge applies. Clients might not be as unreasonable if they had to pay through the nose for it. Now reward the worker bees. Use the added profit from the rush charges to create a kick-ass employee-training program.
Many agency/client challenges can be traced to the fact that we don’t understand each other’s business. What if you exchanged ten of your employees for ten of their employees for a week? Now do that every quarter or six months. Can you imagine? That would open eyes at both the company and the agency. The mutual understanding would be awesome.
We talk a lot about being customer-centric. Let’s give a go at being client-centric. Wait a second. Did I just drink the Kool-Aid? What I mean is come up with useful tools for your client contacts that makes their jobs easier, from weekly one-page competitive roundups to Webinars on judging creative work and writing agency input documents. Think about it. We spend so much energy trying to sell clients. Why not spend a little energy trying to help their buying efforts?
Okay, that’s four ideas for getting the respect we deserve from clients. Respect from your clients. It’s a wonderful thing and rightfully yours.

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Mike Ogden is a digital/senior writer based in Kansas City. Ad agency stops have enabled him to create for major brands like American Century, Capital One, Sprint, and USAA. Seasoned and sharp with a touch of gray, Ogden, aka Og, is known for creating and championing ideas. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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