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How to be Proactive

Question: “You keep talking about the importance of being proactive with our clients.  How should we do this?

Answer: Before we talk about how to be proactive, let’s make sure we understand why we should be proactive.

There are three primary reasons for account people (and the agency) to be proactive:

  • Coming forth with creative ideas is one of the few things that the client either doesn’t have enough time to do or can’t do as well as the agency.  (It’s one of the reasons they hire an agency.)
  • Having value to the client as a source of ideas will make the client more reliant on us and more likely to be understanding of other agency shortcomings.
  • There’s usually a good chance that agency ideas may lead to increased use of agency resources, which can lead to more revenue for the agency.

That said, it’s often hard to be proactive because it’s hard to find the time, it’s hard to get the client’s ear to listen to it and it’s hard to get the client to accept it.

Recognizing that each client, their relationship with the agency and their level of receptivity will be different, here are some ways to get started:

  • Force yourself to set aside time dedicated to thinking about ideas for the client.  The old cliché about “ask the busiest person you know to do something if you want it to get done,” is true.  So pick one lunch hour per week or coffee time before work or a half hour before you leave work.  Put it on your calendar and treat it like a mandatory meeting.
  • You’re not in it alone.  Solicit co-workers on your team or even people who don’t work on the account.  Treat it like a mini-brainstorming session.  It’s okay to make it fun, even outrageous.
  • Focus on the client’s business.  Never forget, the client walks around with a thought balloon over his head that says, “What’s in it for me?”  First and foremost, the client wants to hear about ideas that will grow his business, be good for his brand and save him money.  So you need to pretty much stay in those areas.
  • Ideas can come from many places.  Look at better ways to do what’s already being done.  Look to other categories or industries and modify what they do, for your client.  Have a quick 5-minute “what if” blue sky session.  Don’t be afraid to be creative and out of the box and then reign ideas in.
  • Make sure your idea is doable and defendable.  Do enough homework to feel that the idea is implementable (which means practical, executable and affordable).  The last thing we want is to diminish our credibility with the client by showing we don’t understand his business by suggesting an undoable idea.
  • Grease the skids.  Once you have an idea, make sure the client will be receptive to an idea coming from the agency in the area you’ve identified.  If he says, yes, you probably have license to get additional information from him or even test-drive the idea by him.

  • Present the idea in a smart and compelling manner.  Pick a time when the client’s likely to be receptive.  Make your presentation of the idea short, simple and clear.  Be prepared to answer any and every question or objection the client may raise.  Have a plan for implementation thought out, so that if the client likes the idea, you can answer the “what’s the next step?” question.

  • If the client rejects the idea, make sure you get a clear and in-depth understanding of the reason for the rejection.  Regroup and determine if the objection is overcomeable or addressable.  If it is, try to get up to bat again.

  • If the client buys the idea and it gets approved for implementation, make sure that your client, at a minimum, gets “co-conspirator” credit for the idea.


And, last, if a client buys your idea, I want to know about it so I can reward and reinforce this desired behavior from the account group.


Bruce Kelley

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