What Good Clients Are Really Looking For

Listeners on Twitter wanted to know what clients actually want from creative firms, so David makes a list based on his experience of what good clients want, while Blair's reaction is "who cares what clients want... all they wanted was a 'faster horse.'"



BLAIR ENNS: Alright David, today we're talking about what clients want. Is that right? 

DAVID C. BAKER: No, it's not. 

BLAIR: Okay. 

DAVID: You know who I am, right? No, we're talking about what good clients want. 


DAVID: I don't think we care too much about what bad clients want. 

BLAIR: Well that was going to be my whole contribution to this podcast, because you've created this list for us to work through of what the clients want, and I was just going to say, "Who cares what clients want?" In the words of Henry Ford, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said, 'A faster horse.'" So I'm glad you made the distinction right off the top.

I just want to say the source of this podcast... we really should do this more often. I said to you on Twitter yesterday, "Hey, we got this podcast recording tomorrow. What are we talking about?" So we got some suggestions from the audience and somebody had suggested, or maybe even a couple of people had suggested talking about what it is the clients want, and I immediately had this visceral reaction to it because I've already stated that. I think sometimes agencies are too guilty of listening to the specific demands of their clients, and we'll get into that, but when I go over the list that you sent, I mean there's some great stuff here and it really is worth diving into. 

DAVID: Well it looks like I'm going to be doing a lot of the work here, because-

BLAIR: Yeah, exactly. 

DAVID: You didn't come up with any topic.

BLAIR: You finally figured out our relationship, have you?

DAVID: Yeah, that's right. Well you didn't come up with the topics. I'm panicking. I'm thinking, we got to have a topic, so I put this list together and then you come back and say, "Okay, I'll interview you," which basically is your way of saying, "You do the work David," once again. So, thank you Blair. 

BLAIR: I figured out quite a while ago that my comfort level with deadlines is higher than yours, so if I can out-wait you I can just wait til we get closer and closer, and I know you'll do the work.

DAVID: I'll always jump in. That's right. Good job.

BLAIR: Okay, on that note I'll take the lead and interview you so it'll sound like it's my idea. 

DAVID: Okay. 

BLAIR: Alright, so we've got a list of things. We're talking about what good clients want, and I guess we're exploring the idea of how good agencies and agency principals are at delivering on those points, and what are the issues around when there's a disconnection, so at the top of the list is this idea of what?

DAVID: Bringing unique expertise, right? I mean, it almost feels like you and I talk about that so much we shouldn't even have to bring it up. 

BLAIR: There should be a book on this. 

DAVID: Maybe there is. That's right. Which is the reason why clients have on average, what is it? 15, 18 agencies. It's because they rarely find one place that is going to bring all of the varied levels of expertise that they need, and so they are more comfortable even though there's I guess some disadvantages to it, in assembling this team of experts. And so if you are on that team, you need to have some sort of expertise that ideally is not going to threaten the other agencies on that list, which means that over time it will I guess encourage more cooperation and less competition between the agencies that are all serving the same client.

BLAIR: Yeah, and I would add that from a new business point of view, if you're the principal of the firm and just imagine that you've just hired a new salesperson and you are arming that salesperson with some language and some instruction to go and get new clients, and I think back to the beginning of my agency career. I was 22 years old. I had been working for this firm, a full service marketing communications firm for a few months and they handed me business development responsibility, and I said to the owner of the firm. I said, "Okay, so what kind of business do you want me to go after?" And he said, "Oh yeah, the good news is we'll take design, advertising, and public relations business from corporations, not for profit entities, and government departments, so you can basically go after everybody." 

DAVID: Like that's good news, right?

BLAIR: Yeah. He thought he was just handing me this beautiful blank slate. Now just go sell. And when I was relaying that story a few years later somebody to said to me, "You know, the word 'everything' essentially has the same meaning as the word nothing.' So he thought he was giving you this world of opportunity and he was really just kind of neutering you," and so I would say the call that I would like to make if I'm the new business person is I don't want to call somebody and say, "Hey, let me list off all of these different things that I could do for you."

I want to make this call. I want to pick up the phone and I want to call and say to my highly coveted prospective client, "Listen, I know you're working with all kinds of agencies right now and I know some of those firms and they're all very good at what they do, and I'm sure you're very happy with the work that they're doing for you. The reason I'm calling you is we have this one thing that we do and we do it better than anybody else in the world, and maybe you have a need for it and maybe you don't and if you don't that's fine. I'll go on my way." 

That's the call that I want to make and that's the call that if I have a salesperson I want to be able to arm that person to make that call, and I think of it as the armor piercing telephone introduction, and the armor, it's piercing because the tip of the spear that I'm leading with is the most specialized expertise that I possess. It's this one thing that I'm pretty sure that we do better than most, but behind that tip of the spear you have the broader part of the arrow, and that represents all of the things that you might do for a client. 

So instead of calling and saying, "We could do all these things for you," I'd rather call and say, "Here's this one thing that we do better than everybody else," and then you'll get questions like, "Well do you do branding, or advertising?" "Yeah, yeah. We do those things too just like everybody else does." I consider that to be armor piercing because what you're piercing are the plates of existing agency relationships. You pointed out that you don't want your offering to be a threat to those other agencies, and I think so many firms still make this mistake when they're trying to gain an entrée into a new client. They see themselves as trying to replace one or two or three existing agencies. 

DAVID: The way you expressed that was so powerful. I had such a great image in my mind and I think that's so true. Imagine how much easier your job would've been if you had been given that task. When you're working with a firm, I know because I've heard you tell me this, that one of the questions you ask yourself is, "Would I want to own a part of this firm, or would I want to be in charge of selling the services at this firm?" And so by that question you put yourself in that person's shoes. That's a great way to view it.

BLAIR: Thanks. Alright, another thing on the list here after bringing clients looking for unique positioning is, you've identified the flexibility of how the relationship begins. What do you mean by that?

DAVID: This is an area where I have really changed my perspective, because in the early years I used to always say, you need to hold out for the big start. They're going to dangle this opportunity like they've got to be rescued. They've got some emergency and you're going to say, "Well, no. We don't do that. We like to start comprehensively with a big plan and a big diagnostic," as both you and I speak, and so on. Just hold out until they start the right way. Don't try to get a foot in the door, because if you do you'll just be a waiter at the table and you'll never really get a seat at the table.

But I've talked with too many clients, too many of my clients' clients, who tell me that's just simply not true. That the best relationships they have with agencies are ones that started small and they're not trying to rip off these agencies. They're not trying to just test them. That's just the way it happens, and the introductions for that are even more interesting because so many employees from agencies are flipping back and forth from the agency to the client side way more than ever before, and so you have folks who used to work at your agency who are now working on the client side, and those are your primary referral sources. 

And so they use their capital, however much that is, to go to their boss and say, "Hey, the place I used to work at would be great to help us out here, and if you say no then you're probably not going to get another chance," so this is an area where I feel like I've been wrong, or maybe I was right and the market has changed. I'm not sure which it is, but I think you need to be flexible about how you start. Obviously you're not going to stick with this client if they're just still dribbling stuff to you, if they don't give you bigger opportunities, but that's what I meant by that.

BLAIR: Yeah, and I think we've talked about this before and I've just added to that saying I think it's okay to start small as long as you're clear with the client that you're not in the business of doing small projects. You're doing this small project in the hopes, in the expectations that there's more work to follow, and so you're not asking the client for a commitment. You're saying out loud what it is that you're thinking. You want to share that thought with the client, so I think you're forcing me to soften up a little bit on that subject. 

DAVID: Don't you also say, this would be a good opportunity to say, "Listen, our normal policy is, but we might," and then you go into some statement about how you might be willing to violate that. So this is a place where in your thinking you might pull up the normal policy because it's useful to have normal policies. 

BLAIR: Yeah, absolutely. 

DAVID: Right.

BLAIR: Honesty about the fit is the next thing on the list of what good clients want, and that seems like it's self-evident but I think we've all been in situations where when we're on the buying side of the table and we encounter an expert or a vendor or somebody that we're talking to about potentially helping us with our situation and we're still describing the problem. "Okay, let me explain to you what my situation is," and even before we're finished describing the problem, the person on the other side of the table or on the other end of the phone is nodding and going, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we can do that. Yeah, yeah." And you get that sense when you're the buyer in the situation that there's no true discernment by the seller about whether or not this really is a good fit. Is that what we're talking about here about honesty of the fit?

DAVID: Yes, exactly. It's like the elementary school teacher says, "Alright, kids. I need one volunteer to come pet this-"

BLAIR: Ooh, ooh. 

DAVID: Yeah.

BLAIR: Me, me, me, me. 

DAVID: And they all raise their hands. That's what it looks like out there. There's just such unbelievable power in being able to say, "Oh, I am really a fit for that," or, "I'm not a fit for that." Especially if you have both of those conversations over time with the same prospect, because they've heard you say no enough times that when you say yes it really means something. 

BLAIR: Yeah, there's another great quote from a client I don't remember but, if you don't say no, your yes is meaningless.

DAVID: Right. Yeah. Yes. No. Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BLAIR: So feeling this discernment when you're on the buying side of the table and you're explaining the problem, rather than the hands going, "Ooh, ooh, we can do that," you want to experience somebody really listening to you, really taking in the information. Not being overly enthusiastic initially, because they're still essentially assessing whether or not there's a good fit here. 

So I think sometimes in agency new business development we're taught, I was certainly taught this way, you bring your enthusiasm and your passion to the table right away and you show that right away. A clinician wouldn't do that. Your doctor wouldn't do that. Your lawyer or your accountant wouldn't do that when you're interviewing them or just giving them the beginnings of the information to describe your situation, so I don't think you should behave that way either. We're working our way down a list of what we think good clients want from agencies, and you have on this list this willingness to respond to occasional emergencies, and I can see-

DAVID: You're wincing, aren't you? You're wincing.

BLAIR: Yeah, and I think this is another area where it's about getting the balance right. Is that what you mean?

DAVID: Yeah, because there are some clients that agencies have that have a string of emergencies, and after you've had a few of them you realize, "Ah, very few of these emergencies." That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a client that's normally respectful of your time and of your fees and once every 18 months they are just in a pickle and you could really help them look good by working late at night or doing something on a weekend, or not worrying about a scope discussion, just doing it and working it out later. 

I just think there's room to do that every once in a while. I think it comes back to you, and every once in a while you're going to get burned but it feels like if you're constantly looking at scope and being so rigid you just lose a little bit of your humanity. It's like you need to be able to violate your own guidelines sometimes and just demonstrate that you are empathetic, and I don't see many agencies doing it in exactly the right place. To me it feels like many of them are over-servicing their clients with false emergencies a lot. That's where most of them are, and then some of them are just so rigid that they just never do it, and it seems to me like there's 2, 3, 5% of the time you might step outside the normal bounds. That's what I meant. 

BLAIR: Yeah, so it's an issue of getting the balance right somewhere in the middle as you point out. I mean if you're in the crisis communications business then that is your business of responding to emergencies. 

DAVID: Right.

BLAIR: But I've worked in multiple agencies and I have advised owners of agencies who just have clients who have no qualms about calling them on Christmas Eve and asking a large team to work over the holidays on something that really isn't all that meaningful. 

DAVID: Right, exactly. 

BLAIR: What's next on your list here of things that good clients are looking for from their agencies? 

DAVID: I think objectivity, and obviously we're not listing these in any order of importance. They're sort of as they occurred to us, but objectivity is such an important one and I think it's one of the most important reasons they hire an outside firm rather than relying entirely on their client side department. For you to tell them the truth. I don't mean in a confrontational way, and in some ways it's just like reporting the truth that you are hearing out there when you're working in lots of similar situations with access to information they simply don't have, but other times it really does require a little bit of courage when they are hurting themselves and a lot of people know it but nobody has the courage to step up. 

So you have to do it well, you have to do it in an empathetic way, but the best agencies are known for their objectivity. It's actually more important to be objective than it is to be correct. If you're aiming to be correct, you won't be objective enough. You'll hedge your bets too much, and so I think objectivity is so critical and it's one of the main reasons why clients are still hiring agencies.

BLAIR: Yeah, and I think that's really well put around this friction between objectivity and correctness and that giving yourself that license to be wrong as long as you're bringing your point of view forward.

DAVID: Right. 

BLAIR: I remember the first time that I referred you. I was a consultant at the time and I was working with a firm on new business development. I knew their underlying issues that were affecting performance, but I didn't have a sense at all of what they were and I referred you in, and a little while later you and I were talking and I said, "Hey, what ever happened to that client of mine that you went to do some work for?" "Oh, I split the firm up," was your response. I said, "You did what?" You said, "Yeah, I said to the principals, the two partners, 'Listen, you two hate each other so we're going to break up the business. You're going to take this part. You're going to take that part. You're going to pay this one person so much money,'" and I could not believe what I was hearing you say and I was thinking, "I'm never referring you to another of my clients."

DAVID: And sure enough you haven't either. 

BLAIR: But since then I've said to many people that one of your strengths as a consultant is you will tell people that their baby is ugly. This idea of objectivity, I just know this about you. It is so important for you to bring what you see as objective truth, no matter how hard it is for people to hear it. Think that's an accurate assessment of you?

DAVID: I think so. I was just on a call with a woman today, and I worked with her in 1997 and I had not worked with her since, so 21 years, and I went back and looked at some of my earlier correspondence and she was very mad at me, and I guess it took 21 years for her to get over it, but I don't like that spoiler role honestly. It's a little bit tiring to me, but I do feel duty-bound, and I think that the best agencies feel the same way and they're really good at it. 

I see more and more of them doing a fantastic job at being honest with their clients about what's really happening and sometimes that means stepping outside of the primary reason they hired them, which has something to do with something under the marketing umbrella. Maybe it has to do with why their marketing isn't effective and it has nothing to do with marketing activity. It's because one of the bosses is a jerk and maybe they need to say that, right? Not that way, but yeah, for sure. I think objectivity is something you've got to hold onto as an agency.

BLAIR: Do you think there's a relationship between objectivity and relationship building or the need to be liked? 

DAVID: There could be. It's probably harder for somebody who needs to be liked to be objective, but I also think building a strong relationship with somebody depends in this context on listening really carefully and demonstrating that you care about them and for them so much that you're willing to suffer a little bit of temporary friction in order to move them forward in their professional career, so yeah. I think it is. Yeah, absolutely.


BLAIR: We're talking about what good clients want from their agencies and we're working our way down a list here. The next thing that you have on your list David is no busywork, and that conjures up all kinds of images in my mind, but what do you mean by that? 

DAVID: That clients don't want agencies to be giving them busywork, so wherever possible only ask questions that are essential, because the folks across the table have so little time and they're hiring you in part to do things for them, so if there's something that you really need from them, then it's okay to demand that but otherwise try to move forward on your own with as little involvement from them as possible, unless you sense that they need it to slow down so that they can keep up or so that they can have more input in the process, but generally they will reward you if you make their life easier and not more difficult. So shorter meetings, meetings that are agenda-driven. Don't have this rote list of questions you ask at the outset of every project. Skip around and only ask the ones that are relevant to this particular initiative. That's what I meant by busywork.

BLAIR: I'm always trying these things on in the sale and how many times have you heard, you're working with a client who has a new business opportunity. You inquire, "Hey, how did that meeting go?" And the answer is, "Oh, fantastic. We scheduled 30 minutes and the meeting went 75 minutes."

DAVID: Oh man, that is such a great illustration. They're excited about how long it went, right?

BLAIR: Yeah, and they don't understand that at the end of the meeting they're high-fiving each other. "That went great. Far longer than the client had planned," and the client is saying to their colleague afterwards, "Man, I couldn't get them out of my office." What kind of signals are you sending about how you will work together? If the meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes, at the 25 minute mark you should be saying, "Hey, we're five minutes from the end of the meeting here. Let's wrap it up unless you want to keep it going."

DAVID: Right, exactly. You give them the choice to do it. Here's something else that's fun. Phone calls, schedule them to start at say 4:15 instead of 4:00 or 4:30. Or something else that's really fun is to schedule them for 25 minutes long. It's a really intentionally way to indicate that you're paying attention to time. It's fun to see the reaction there.

BLAIR: Wow. So when you're scoping out the sale, when you're in the value conversation and you're assessing the value, what's important to the client, their desired future state, if the client doesn't articulate it specifically, you should really think about this part of the relationship. How often do you want to hear from us?

DAVID: Right. 

BLAIR: How often do you want to brief us?

DAVID: Right.

BLAIR: Are you interested in meeting weekly, daily, monthly, et cetera? Do you want us to come in and present to the board once a month? Are you interested in a daily huddle everyday? How do you want to communicate? How much communication do you want to have from us? All of these things, because as you point out, there's a general trend that the clients don't have time. They have less and less time, but it's also a highly personal thing, isn't it?

DAVID: Right, and I believe in personality profiling as well, so it's really useful to figure out what personality type your client is. So if they're a hard charging executive that likes to make decisions quickly, then they're definitely not going to want a meeting over a meal. They're going to want an email with three choices and all they have to say is, "Do number two." Or if somebody really is in love with process, they're going to want that all spelled out. So tailoring how you deal with clients based on how they want to deal with you is really useful.

BLAIR: Fantastic. Alright, the next time on your list has got me chuckling again because I'm thinking back to my first agency job. So you're saying clients want you to understand the client's world well, but don't make any stupid promises about understanding better than the client.

DAVID: So tell me your story. I think I know what you're going to say, but I want to hear it.

BLAIR: When I started at this full service marketing communication firm and I was 22 years old and I was account coordinator, it was my first job out of school and I was handed this roster of seven or eight clients, and some of them were some pretty big clients. Some were pretty small. And my boss looked at me and said to me, "Your job is to know your clients' businesses better than they know them." 

DAVID: He should've resigned.

BLAIR: And I thought, "I've got eight clients. One of them is a national railroad."

DAVID: So you're dressing up as an engineer at night so you can get a feel for what it looks like. 

BLAIR: One of them's a fish marketing board. They're just all over the place, and I'm 22 years old, and he in all seriousness told me I should know these businesses better than these people knew their businesses. What a ridiculous statement.

DAVID: Okay, so what's the answer here? Maybe we say, "Alright, I will work. Not promise. I will work to understand your world better than other agencies." 


DAVID: But I wouldn't even say that honestly. It's like if you do, it's going to be so apparent. I don't understand why you would even make that promise. They're going to pick it up or not. 

BLAIR: Yeah, I don't know that you would ever make that promise. I'm thinking of an agency I worked for. We had a client for multiple years and the turnover on the client side, the staff turnover was a lot higher than it was on the agency side, so the institutional memory of marketing and advertising for the client actually resided with the agency, so people in the client organization would call me. Something big was happening at the top of the client organization. I would get information before they would. My lines of communication were better. 

I wouldn't say I knew their business better than they did, but there is something to be said about part of the value that we were delivering in that relationship was the depth and length of the relationship that we had with the client, the institutional memory, and even the channels of communication to the very top of this large global organization. 

So there are situations I think where your knowledge of the client is really an asset, and then there are, in my earlier example, we were a generalist firm. I was a young kid basically. The idea that I had any bit of knowledge that they didn't possess was absurd, so I think there are situations where it's more relevant but to your point, you would never make that promise. I think that's your point. Is that right?

DAVID: Yeah, exactly. 

BLAIR: What's next on the list?

DAVID: Zero-based work. Zero-based work basically means that you're starting over from scratch rather than just taking last year's plan, dusting it off, adjusting it and moving forward, because why did you win the account in the first place? It's because the firm they were working with wasn't doing zero-based work. They wanted a fresh approach, so they brought you in. So if you don't want to lose it to the next agency, then freshen up the work every once in a while and start from scratch. I think that's a really valuable thing to do. I don't know how often you need to do it. I don't think every year but it seems like maybe every other year you give the client that choice. Like, "Hey, should we start over? Should we pretend like we are just starting to work with you and take a totally fresh new look? Hey, and let's have a half day off site and let's do that together." 

BLAIR: Well, I think this is great advice and it's really timely because if the listeners of this podcast are not doing this now, you'll be doing it shortly. The biggest trend on the procurement side of the business is zero-based budgeting. Starting with the largest organizations increasingly they're saying, "There is no legacy from year to year budget-wise." Your client has an obligation to go to his or her boss and make the case from scratch, from zero, that I want to spend this much money on these initiatives over the year, and then that proposal essentially goes to, usually it's some form of a committee and then things are prioritized and approved. I don't know if it's here to stay but it's absolutely the trend towards zero-based budgeting and if you're not experiencing it now, as long as your clients are large enough, you are about to experience it, and I think it's a great way to look at it.

Not just budgeting, but this idea of zero-based work. There are reasons why zero-based budgeting is gaining traction. I'm the first person to disparage people in the marketing procurement business. I think a lot of them don't know what they're doing, don't believe marketing is an investment, are applying the wrong principles of acquiring or procuring widgets to the procurement of professional services, but I think in this subject of zero-based budgeting I think it's something that makes a lot of sense for both parties and we've got to learn to not just live with it, but as you point out, just see it as an opportunity to keep your own thinking fresh.

DAVID: Yeah, and to move upstream. To take a more strategic look rather than implement things that just have been there because of momentum. Yeah, brilliant. That's a great way to look at it. 

BLAIR: You've got admit mistakes as the next thing on the list of what clients want, and we all know people in our lives who maybe they're excellent at what they do and they have this ability to do multiple things and do things to the highest quality, but one of their faults is when things go wrong, they will never take responsibility. And I have seen that in agencies. It just conjures to mind another story from my agency career very quickly. We closed a really large piece of business. It was the first piece of business I had closed in this new business role in a firm, and our client told us we were two or three times more expensive than the previous agency, and then we ran the first campaign and the client called me in a panic. She was freaking out and she said, "The print on the outdoor billboard's too small. We can't read it." 

DAVID: Oh man.

BLAIR: And she said, "Our VP is freaking out walking around saying, 'We never should have hired them. We never should have hired them.'" And I said, "We'll fix it." And she said, "We don't have the budget to pay for it." I said, "We'll fix it. We'll pay for it." I didn't have the authority to do that, but I knew it was the right thing to do, so I called my boss and I said, "There's a problem. We're fixing it. We're paying for it." He said okay, and in the end that moment of admitting our mistakes, that's what cemented what turned out to be a long and profitable and mutually beneficial relationship.

DAVID: Wow. I didn't know what was going to happen when you told me that you told your boss. I pictured it going either way. I could picture him saying, "Okay, but it's coming out of your ..." The way your boss responded in that second was exactly the right choice. It obviously arose from who he or she was as a person and how they approach business, and it just popped up at that moment. That's great.

BLAIR: Yeah, and I think he could hear the conviction in my voice, and I think I had some credibility for closing this piece of business at really high margin, and I basically said, "We might have to give back all the margin to fix what effectively was our mistake," and he said, "Okay, do it," and in the end it didn't cost us much but I've learned so many lessons from that experience and I've applied it in my consulting and my training career, and one of the lessons is, client loyalty does not come from perfect engagements. Client loyalty comes from the screw up that happens in the first few months, and there always is one, and then how you respond to the screw up. So if you don't have enough margin built into the job to fix mistakes, you are impairing your ability to build this loyalty with your clients. 

DAVID: That is such a great way to say it. So the pricing needs to assume the possibility of human error and making it easier for you to respond correctly. That's a great way to view it.

BLAIR: Yeah, when you're closing the business and you've got the margin built in, you should be thinking, "Okay, there's a lot of margin. This first engagement always needs to be really profitable," and you're mentally thinking, "We're going to use some of this profit to fix the inevitable mistakes that we're going to make, and when we fix those mistakes, when we step up, when we admit mistakes and we pay to correct them, then we will have a loyal, happy client for a very long period of time."

DAVID: Yeah. Yeah, and you can see why somebody would just struggle with this issue if there's no margin in it, right? Alright, so we've got time for one more. Let me suggest that one of the most significant ones we haven't talked about yet is, don't switch account leads too much. In other words, who they're representative, their account executive is. That can really set off clients, and I have a suggestion for our listeners and that's if you are going to switch, then let them have some say in it. 

And while it never makes sense to throw say a new creative director in front of a group of 15 people and have them interview that person on their own. That's a sweat-inducing moment that isn't fair to that role. An account executive really does need to stand on their own, so if you're interviewing a new account executive who's going to be responsible for this new account, call your client up and say, "Hey, would do us a favor? We're thinking of hiring this new person and we're wondering how they do in client interactions. Would you spend a half hour with them and then just give us a sense of it?" Now they feel invested in the decision and they're not likely to push back on hiring this person. Not because they didn't like the person, but because they didn't have any say in it, so that's just one way to navigate this. 

BLAIR: That's a fantastic suggestion. I love the idea. So you're not saying to the client, "Here, you interview the account person." But you're effectively giving them some input into it and you're communicating to them that their perspective on how this person will interact with you is important enough to factor into the hiring decision.

DAVID: Yeah, exactly. Of all the agencies that have done that at my suggestion, not a single client has ever said, "No, I do not want to work with them." Because it's already late in the process, they already know this is probably the person, and the client loves the fact that they've had some input in the decision. 

BLAIR: Yeah, that's fantastic. So from a new business point of view, thinking back again to my early career. The first piece of new business that I ever won was a professional sports franchise that I had coveted as a client. I thought it'd be great to have them as a client, and then a printing rep told me, "Hey, the current agency on that piece of business, their account person is leaving and they haven't told the client yet. They're going to know today or tomorrow," and they had swapped account people about six months earlier and I thought, "Oh, this one's ripe," so I called the VP of marketing at this sports team and I left a voicemail message and I said, "Hey, I know you're working with this other firm. They're a really good firm. I'm sure you're really happy with them, but if things ever change and you're interested in talking to other firms I'd love to have a conversation with you." 

Then she called me back about three hours later right after she was told that their account person was being switched again, and we won that business without a pitch within a week. It was fantastic, so yeah. Clients hate it. The revolving door of account people, and I love your suggestion of involving the client and having a little bit of a say or at least in part of the vetting process for one of your final or late stage candidates. 

DAVID: So we do care what clients say, but only good clients, right? We shouldn't care too much what bad clients think or say, but we should care what good clients think or say. 

BLAIR: Yeah, and I made the point off the top that was a little bit dismissive on that front. I know there are some new business conferences out there. There's a bunch of them that like to put clients up on the stage and so there's all these agency folks in the audience and the clients have the platform and they're saying, "Here's what we want from you," and when I listen to some of those things I think no, you're better off not being in that room. You're better off not taking the very specific direction of what clients are saying that they want from you, because a lot of times what the client thinks, and some clients are going to just roll their eyes at this but thankfully clients don't listen to this. 

Back to Henry Ford's quote. Clients say they want more control. Not all clients. Some clients say they want more control, but really for you to do your best work, you need to take a leadership position in the engagement, and that's just one example and I think if you're listening to a client on a stage saying, "Here's what I want from my agencies," you should pay attention but you shouldn't take at face value everything that they say they want. I mean, you talked about objectivity, bringing objectivity to the table, and I think I've often had this ranking list in my mind when I was an account person so I've got this individual representing this company and this brand across the table from me, and they're telling me what they want, and I think, "My priority is not what I want. My priority is not what this person wants. My priority is not what this person's boss wants. My priority is the brand first, the client second, the agency third, and me fourth." 

So there are even things, priorities that are higher or more important than what the client is saying that they want, and the client isn't always right. 

DAVID: Yes. Good way to say that. This has been fun. 

BLAIR: Yeah. Saved by Twitter. 

DAVID: Thank you Blair. 

BLAIR: Thanks David. Talk to you next time. 


David Baker