How to be a good client

As part of IPA president Ian Priest's ADAPT agenda, the IPA interviewed marketers and agencies to find out what each wants from the other. Here is your go-to checklist.

"Clients get the advertising they deserve" - David Ogilvy. He might equally have added that clients get the design, PR and media they deserve - because great work starts with a great relationship, and if you want good work from your agency partners, you must first be a good client.

How to be a good client

Set mutually agreed, realistic and quantifiable objectives.

Instigate a regular 360° review of progress against these objectives.

Push for directness, trust and chemistry between the agency and client teams.

Make sure there are equally talented people on both sides that are motivated by the same shared incentives and principles.

Demand ongoing, transparent feedback in both directions.

Always respond to work with the positives first. Get cycles of positivity going, then turn the conversation to more critical feedback. Ideas are babies first – they need to be nurtured before we begin telling them off for not being able to walk.

Do as you would be done by. Treat your agency as you would want to be treated by them. Respect their expertise and empathise with their pressures. Care about their issues and celebrate their achievements. Forgive them their foibles and try to see things from their point of view.

Give agencies the opportunity to get under the skin of your business. Allow them to immerse themselves in every aspect of your operation. Open doors to them. Enable them to understand your culture and openly share information and intelligence with them.

Create an atmosphere of excellence. Demand excellence. Inspire excellence. Recognise excellence and reward it.

…and while we’re at it, how to be a good agency

Adopt a mindset of active selection, not passive inheritance. Client churn is so frequent that no relationship can be taken for granted as an agency inheritance. The agency has to be actively selected by every new client at every level.

Great work is the outcome of a great relationship. One depends on the other. There is no point in having a good partnership if there is nothing to show for it. Work that works seals partnerships and provides great momentum to a relationship.

Total honesty at all times. All good relationships are built on trust.

Show you genuinely care about how your client’s business is performing.

Fair remuneration. If what is being paid does not match what is being delivered, something is going to break sooner or later.

The ability to disagree without falling out.

Never get complacent. Think of all the other agencies who would love your client. Keep this image in your head. It will stop you becoming complacent.

Call or email your client every few weeks to see how their business is doing.

Have a "yes" attitude. Sort out problems immediately. If you say "yes" nine times out of 10, when you say "no", your client will believe that whatever it is really cannot be done.

Do good work. This sounds obvious, but that is what a decent client is after – not wining, dining and sycophancy.


The IPA will bring marketers and agencies together to discuss good relationships at an "Adaptathon" in October. Visit ipa.co.uk/adapt

How to make relationships work

By Libby Child, UK CEO of relationship management company Aprais

Did you know there’s a staggering 99.9% correlation between a good client perform­ance and a good agency performance?

By examining the data on more than 10,000 evaluations, we can demonstrate that for every 1% client performance increase there is a corresponding 0.68% agency uplift.

In addition, our top 10% of clients receive 37% higher creative performance from their agencies than the bottom 10%.

So what does great client performance look like? We interrogated all the evaluations we’ve conducted, and four key drivers of client excellence were identified: briefing, approval, timing and behaviour.

These may sound basic, but getting them right consistently can make an average client become a client of choice.

  • Briefing Are the briefs clear, written and agreed with all stakeholders, and do they contain an objective and all relevant information (budget, timings and brand guidelines)? A surprising number of clients fail this test. Reworks and a demotivated agency are the likely consequence.
  • Approval Does yes mean yes? Are the internal client stages known and adhered to, or does the work get lost in a continuous loop of minor tweaks and amendments?
  • Timings Are they agreed up-front and maintained during the project, or does three weeks become "can we see where you’ve got to" after just one?
  • Behaviour Is the agency treated with respect as a professional business partner? Can it challenge and push back without fear of reprisal?

Case studies show how client performance can be dramatically improved through a process of six-monthly evaluations, action-planning and agency feedback.

For example, one client was consistently given a poor evaluation on briefing – receiving an average of 62.1%. But 18 months, much training and three reviews later, this had risen to 76.1% – an improvement of 22.5%. Comments from agencies also reflected this significant turnaround.

The Aprais study also shows that six-monthly relationship reviews result in greater improvements than annual ones, demonstrating that the most productive partnerships benefit from a level of commitment, openness and partnering.

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