You don't have to be Mel Gibson to please a client
A view from Neil Simpson

You don't have to be Mel Gibson to please a client

Someone said to me the other day: "Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear what clients are really thinking, like in that Mel Gibson film What Women Want?" You know, the one where he meanders around an ad agency and can hear the inner-thoughts of his female staff.

True, it would short-circuit the infuriating politeness, platitudes and politicking, and maybe we’d be better able to deliver against their business needs. It would also avoid that awful second-guessing that wastes so much time.

It made me reconsider my own time as a client; I can tell you first hand that a client doesn’t always know what’s best. But what was going on when things worked well with my agencies? What did I really enjoy? How did they make me feel we were in synch?

The truth is that we don’t need to be mind-readers. But we do need to adjust our mindset.

Clients pick up when an agency team is nervous, disjointed or masking the truth. If your unit is tight and at ease, the client will be more loyal and forgiving.

Always be a meeting ahead. At least make sure there is a surprise-and-delight item on the agenda. Your client will feel momentum instead of status quo.

Clients need people to bounce ideas off or just shoot the breeze with. It's not just about the campaign

Can I introduce you to my parents? Is the chief marketing officer keen to put you in front of his chief executive? Make them look good and be easy to buy from. Act comfortable and natural from day one, as though you’ve always been working together.

A yardstick for a preferred agency is whether they are the first or last call of the day. Clients need people to bounce ideas off or just shoot the breeze with. It’s not just about the campaign. It could be a business issue, a department restructure or how their team got on last night. Are you that call?

Give a client time to breathe when you’ve just presented. You’ve lived with it a few weeks, so it seems obvious. But they need time to digest. Don’t jump all over the first question: patient build-up beats shooting on sight.

Clients should be able to tell you anything, however difficult or annoying. Don’t get fazed, angry or defensive: work through it carefully together. Maybe they’re uneasy about delivering bad news and bored of the sulks.

When you present, are you a pitcher or a partner? The former makes the agency look good. The latter makes the client feel good at the same time.

I don’t have Mel Gibson’s mind-reading skills, but I do what worked for me when I was a client. I’m afraid it doesn’t make for much of a movie, though.

Neil Simpson is a founding partner at The Corner

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