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Guest Blog: Chris Measures, Keeping clients happy – seven ways of building relationships that last

Keeping clients happy – seven ways of building relationships that last

There’s a myth in the creative industries that agencies are judged solely by results. Obviously if you don’t consistently produce the goods (whether that is on-brief design, press engagement or compelling marketing campaigns) you’ll be fired by the client. However more often than not the reason for being booted has little to do with the actual quality of the work – it is actually related to the relationship between client and agency breaking down.

Sometimes as an agency you can see quite clearly when you are on borrowed time, particularly when working with certain client types, or if there’s been major upheaval such as a takeover or new marketing manager. And it is true that there is a finite length to most client/agency relationships. If you wanted to be a pessimist the clock starts counting down from when you sign the initial contract towards being given notice.

However there are a number of ways you can extend the client relationship and ensure that you have a fighting chance of staying on board for as long as possible. From my experience here are seven ways of keeping clients happy:


1. Communicate regularly (and not just by email)

When I started in PR, I made a point of calling every client, every day. With email that has changed, but you do need to keep in regular contact with clients. Don’t just rely on email and make sure you pick up the phone – it is often a lot easier to discuss something through this channel, compared to the adversarial route of email. Equally, when you do communicate with clients, have a point to the discussions – a new idea, an update on progress or to get input from their side. Open communication channels make it easier to push back on tight deadlines or when you don’t believe a client’s idea will work.


2. Support your client

In most cases your client has a boss (or bosses) that they need to impress. So give them the ammunition to do this – add value by flagging useful content that they can share within their organisation to raise their own profile. Obviously, this should be on top of delivering what you promised, when you promised it. And don’t be afraid to do quick favours for clients that will help them look good – whether it is reviewing a plan or a design, it shows your support for their wider role.


3. Be positive and responsive

Time and again I’ve heard marketing people complain about over-pessimistic PR agencies that take an age to get back to them on what they see as the simplest things. Clients want to deal with happy, positive people with a can-do attitude, not perpetual naysayers. I don’t mean creatives should go all American and declare that everything is awesome and cool, but don’t be an Eeyore on everything. Keep your professional perspective, so if you don’t think something will work, recommend an alternative that will, without making the client look like a fool. And respond quickly when clients get in touch, even if it is to explain that you can’t look at something now, but will get back by a specific time.


4. Be planned

It is absolutely impossible to manage a client relationship without having an activity plan. What have you committed to do, and by when? What are the deliverables for the project and how are you going to achieve them? Have this clear and make sure that the client is bought into key deadlines and milestones (particularly if they have to provide input). Chase if necessary and explain why things need to be done by specific dates. Most of us are charging for our time and being planned avoids cost overruns – you know where you are in the project and what the next steps are. It also means if a client comes back and asks for something different, you know where you stand and can swap activities in and out with confidence.


5. Under promise and over deliver

Leading on from planning, always be realistic when setting deadlines. Something might be a 20 minute job, but make allowances for the rest of your workload. It is so much better to under promise and then deliver early than have to apologise for overruns. However there will be times that things are going to be late, so warn clients in good time so that they are in the loop. This feeds into communicating regularly and having a strong relationship with a client.


6. Widen your network of relationships

Your client may be your day to day contact, but what happens if they leave? Build relationships throughout the organisation, from the receptionist to the managing director if you can. Having multiple contacts can help you do your job more efficiently too. For example, a salesperson is much more likely to return your call if you’ve met them and explained how you help them generate new leads.


7. Be a consultant

An old colleague of mine had an analogy for successful PR – be a cleaner, not a Hoover. Essentially you employ a cleaner, give them the keys to your house and trust them to do a complete job for you. In contrast, a Hoover is a tool that the client uses themselves – there’s not a lot of value being added and it can be easily changed. So be a consultant and make sure you demonstrate that you understand the client’s market, and more importantly, your creative field, so that the client is comfortable that you are providing skills that they simply do not have in-house. Be confident in your judgements and strategy and use positive language to reinforce this.

Strong client relationships are at the heart of every successful creative business – start building them early and you’ll make your job easier, more rewarding and generally more fulfilling. Fail to do this and things will break down quickly – and often acrimoniously.

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