Best advice for working with your client

“Best Advice” is a recurring column on The Message, in which industry veterans Jack Neary and Kevin Spreekmeester—and some of their colleagues—dispense practical advice for people who are just entering the industry.

This week’s Best Advice, the second of a two-part series, is from Jack and Kevin themselves. It’s intended for agency people looking at how best to work with their clients. Last week covered how clients can best choose and work with their agency.

How do you get the client to open up and share as much as you need?

Kevin Spreekmeester: To me this is simple: Explain why they should. Explain the link between the request and the potential outcome of sharing. Give an example they can identify with. Do it all respectfully. You are entering their world—a place they count on to make a living. They will rightfully protect it, but show how sharing pays off, and they should want to support the work.

Jack Neary: Kevin’s right. By helping a client understand that the more you know about their business, the better you can deliver ideas that meet agreed-upon objectives. With a little experience, and as your client relationship develops, you will develop something I call “listening between the lines.” It’s the ability to hear not only what the client is actually saying, but also what she isn’t saying.

How do you convince the client you have superior creative instincts (and do you)?

KS: My best advice on this is to make sure the creative ladders up to the strategic goals. Make sure you can show how that happens. Make sure that you can show why the audience will respond as desired. And allow for the possibility that your client might even have some pretty well-honed creative instincts. Don’t be afraid of that, embrace it and acknowledge that. Humility goes a long way.

JN: This is a matter of trust, and trust is earned over time through the work you do for your client. It all comes down to the work. Is it on brief? Does it reflect learning from past projects? Does it respect the defined brand voice and personality? If you keep checking those boxes, client trust will come, and you might be surprised by the latitude you’ll be given.

What’s the best way to “sell” your creative work?

JN: Selling the work might be more difficult than creating it. First, banish the word “sell” from your vocabulary. In my experience, clients do not like being sold to. They are only human, and it is human nature to be skeptical of those who are pushing something on them. Instead, try taking them by the hand and gently pulling them along. I have found that in most cases a little charm and reason works better than a constant barrage of furious pushing. Let’s face it, you can only fall on your sword once. Save that for when you really need it.

Think of it this way: Our job is not to sell our work, our job is to help our clients buy our work. There is a difference.

It’s important to be passionate not only about your work, but about what your work can do for your client’s business. Clients can sense if you believe in your work. If you don’t believe in it, you shouldn’t be sharing it with your client.

Enthusiasm is contagious. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Your enthusiasm is especially contagious when it bubbles over to include the record-breaking results your work can generate for your client’s brand. Be sure to present your work in that context. Think about why the work is important to your client, not why it is important to you. Take this advice to heart: “Think like a creative person, but talk like an accountant.”

And one final note: know when to shut up.

How do you show value for cost in the most effective way?

KS: In my experience, value was 100% based on the feeling that I had a partner in my goals. Someone who was really there to help, sincerely, passionately and enthusiastically. I wanted a partner as invested in my company’s success as I was. Then the agency became invaluable, because I knew we could work through issues and challenges and not just push agendas.

JN: I encourage agencies to put a little skin in the game by attaching a portion of their compensation to the client’s business results. It sends a valuable signal to your client.

How do you best work with a ‘difficult’ client?

KS: When I worked on the agency side, I had my share of difficult clients. It’s really simple now that I look back at it, but it wasn’t at the time. Most importantly, identify the difference between abusive and difficult. There’s a big difference.

There are people who in their role become abusive, because they can, and nobody should stand for that. If your agency doesn’t support you and help you in those instances, well that’s another lesson learned. But just “difficult” happens all the time, and usually it’s born of misunderstanding, misaligned needs and goals, or, most often, people who just need extra help learning and understanding.

Make sure you have done all you can to hold up your end of the agency/client agreement. If you have, try to find a way for a time-out to discuss issues unemotionally with an eye to creating great work.


David Brown