I recently met with several young advertising agency entrepreneurs whose interest is to someday start their own advertising agency, and the number one question was “What are clients primarily looking for?”.

My immediate answer was that all clients crave great communications more than anything else. They want to know that their agency hears them and responds to them accordingly.

Truth is, we sometimes get so focused on campaigns and deadlines and pitches that we forget that the key component of our jobs is to communicate with the client. In fact, recent surveys indicate that 77% of businesses first and foremost want stellar communications with their agencies. Get your communication right, and the other expectations fall to a realistic level. Plus, if you communicate well, your relationship will be strong enough to weather even a few failed campaigns.

And where does one start when they want to communicate with a person or an audience? What’s the first thing you do?

You understand them, right?

Similarly, before you ever plan a media buy, write copy, mock-up an ad or website design, you aim to understand the target audience…to get inside their heads and determine what they want. If you can master that, everything else you do will be twice as effective.

So, my advice first and foremost, is to step back from day-to-day client management for a moment. Think about how you currently communicate with your clients and then consider what you know about what clients want from agencies.

Over the years, I specifically learned that clients want the following, universally:

Clients want you to understand their business, and their industry. It’s smart for clients to want this, wouldn’t you agree.

If you don’t know their industry, you’re going to make mistakes and misjudgments. Will that edgy new creative work? Only if it fits the industry in which your client resides. Does giving product samples out make sense? Again, only if it matches up with the audience you are pursuing. Part of understanding a client’s business is also understanding their business model. Without that, your strategic recommendations may not work. You may end up being focused on the wrong things.

Take the time to get to know them – what they’re worried about, what they’re trying to achieve, and their aspirations. That will help you be much more effective in the programs you bring forward, and yes, communicate better.

I can assure you that there is a marked difference between what clients’ value most and what agencies value most in the services they provide. 23.5% of clients in a recent Forbes survey said media strategy was the most important service they desired from their agency, while only 10% of agencies felt that media strategy was the most important area to deliver. Of course, this makes a lot of sense given “creativity” is such a broad platform. But building a full-fledged media strategy (much less executing one) requires a specific skill set…the sort of specialized skill that makes hiring an agency a smart move. Clients are right to value it, and agencies might want to be more vocal about explaining how their media strategy skills can help their clients.

I’m guessing most of you thought this skillset was most important. Indeed, it should be no surprise that clients go to agencies for their creative expertise. As clients’ industries get more competitive, it becomes harder and harder to get a message out. And so, clients rely on their agencies to come up with the big idea that transcends bulk media buys and broadcast-style advertising.

In other words, they don’t want you to help them be the loudest voice in the room, they want you to help them be A UNIQUE voice in the room.

This too often gets overlooked by agencies, but clients would like to see far more consumer insights from their agency partners. In fact, this area is a top priority for many clients, yet only about 10% of agencies say they want to increase their involvement in consumer insights. Perhaps if agencies knew how important this was to their clients, they’d be more motivated to offer it.

Should be a duh, but it’s not. When companies are doing their research to find an advertising agency, they want the communication touch points from the agency to clearly reveal what they are best at – particularly their website. Makes sense doesn’t it. Consider a survey conducted in the UK around 2020 where 90% of the respondents mentioned this. It’s a BIG deal! But even bigger is the fact that most companies believe advertising agency websites fail to clearly communicate their difference(s).

While this is perhaps a client desire that has always existed, there is no doubt that over the past ten or so years, and particularly since covid, clients have been looking for advertising agencies that can deliver more for less. There, we stated the obvious.

But there’s a whole other level to this that might not be immediately obvious. Just saying “get more results” is kind of squishy, don’t you think? What kind of results? More sales? More leads? More website traffic, a share of voice? You need to know all that.

You and your client need to be in 100% agreement on it, too. “100% agreement” would mean you’ve defined specific, measurable metrics to track. And those metrics will need to be tied into their business model.

So actually, “get more results” implies that you understand your clients’ businesses. It means you know what their business goals are. And it dictates that all the work you do on your agency’s side is tied to those business goals.

That’s a totally different mindset than “We need some new ads”. Or “we need an email campaign.” But you need to get specific and find out what their business goals really are. Without this, your agency could be chasing meaningless metrics for your client. When that happens, even if you “succeed” with the superficial metrics, you can still get fired because the actual business results weren’t there.

Once again, communication is key. Your agency needs the fullest picture possible of what your client really means when they say they need “results”.

And then you need to properly track those goals.

These tips are a good foundation for starting an advertising agency. Yes, every client is different, and every employee on the client side is different. But if you can stop and imagine yourself in their shoes, and implement the basics, success will follow. Plus, you need to know that most clients want you to succeed. Nobody wants to have to spend the time and effort to find a new agency. They want to like you.

So, help them like you: do your best to understand and then deliver what they want.

Joe Bouch
CEO, 78Madison

78Madison was created to deliver highly individualized and personalized experiences for clients we choose to work with. To inspire and nurture the human spirit in all we do, and to be the most customer-centric advertising agency, where clients can expect solutions beneficial to their bottom line.

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