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Getting into the Client's Business

Question: You keep reiterating the importance of account people getting into the client’s business.  Why is this so important and how can we go about doing it?

Answer: At The Martin Agency as well as many agencies, there is a risk that account managers may fall into the trap of this line of thinking:

“If the creatives generate ideas, and the planners develop strategy, and the project managers handle administration, and the financial managers do billing and forecasting, then I guess the account person’s job is to oversee the creation and production of ads.”
That line of thinking may be true, but it is only partially correct.  Overseeing the creative development and production process is an important and necessary part of the job, but it is only a part of the job.

The other major part of the job is to build a relationship with the client and to be as involved in and as knowledgeable about the client’s business as possible.  (We’ll save building the client relationship for a future topic.)

This is important for a number of reasons:

●It can help sell great ideas and creative work.  If our rationale for recommending something is rooted in why it is right for the client’s business, this will be a much more palatable rationale than because its “cool” advertising or our judgment that it’s good for the brand.  (Remember, the client’s thought balloon always says, “What’s in it for me/my business.”)

●An understanding of the client’s business that is shared with the rest of the agency can provide fertile information for the agency to develop proactive ideas to help grow the client’s business.  And at the end of the day, the reason that the client is at the agency is for ideas. 

●An agency that truly knows a client’s business has real value to the client and the client/agency relationship.  This value can help the agency get through the inevitable tough times when an agency error occurs or when we can’t crack the code on a creative assignment.

Although the goal is to get as far upstream in the client’s business as possible, that may only come in time, after you’ve established some initial client business involvement and understanding.  Here are some ways/tips to begin to get into the client’s business:

  • Periodically take the plant/factory/business tour.

  • Read all client related trends, reports and industry/category periodicals

  • Be knowledgeable about all client research, even if it’s not about advertising or the consumer

  • Attend client business/industry update meetings

  • Know how the client goes to market with his product or service

  • Ask the client if you may attend his periodic staff meetings

  • Do periodic field trips and store checks

  • Meet and establish relationships with people at the client beyond the advertising/marketing departments

  • Attend client industry trade shows and conventions

  • Volunteer to be on internal client committees

  • Spend time working in the client’s retail store
  • Ask the client what you can do to increase your knowledge base of his business, and follow up on his suggestions

Undoubtedly, many of you are doing some of this, but I’m sure that no one has done it all.  Invest the time to do it.  You’ll make yourself and the agency valuable to the client.  And that’s a great ROI on your time investment.



Bruce Kelley

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