Clients we love

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Sometimes work feels somewhat like running a marathon: No one forces you to do it, and you realise there are thousands of people who don’t want to do it, but for some reason, you do. It’s not easy, but it’s enjoyable.

Thembe Khumalo

It has some really tough moments, some moments of high risk, some reasons to doubt whether the expected rewards might ever manifest, and a thorough all-over-body exhaustion at the end. But overall, you still feel good about doing it. And you know you want to go back and do it again and again and again. At least this is how my work feels in this season. Partly this is because I enjoy what I do, but in large part it is also because I have some really great clients.

A good client-service provider relationship can make the difference between mediocre and optimum performance. It makes serving a joy, and enables you and your clients to grow together. It almost always results in over-delivery and great value for money. And yet so many individuals and business lose out on this opportunity to get more than they hoped out of their service providers, particularly those in the creative industry.

I have a three Rs rule for relationships, which is that all relationships I engage in, whether with people, organisations or institutions, whether personal or business, should be relaxed, rewarding and respectful.

Relaxed because I feel I am too old to be tip-toeing around other adults — surely I have put in enough hours to have earned the right to speak without fear and trembling.

Rewarding because no one wants to toil emotionally or otherwise, for something that leaves them feeling empty or depleted.
And respectful because well, respect is important.

In the creative industry, there are certain unwritten, but broadly understood tenets that govern the relationship between clients and their advertising agencies or other service providers. When all parties abide by these rules, conditions are ripe for efficiency, creativity, loyalty and passion to thrive. When they are disregarded, well … they really shouldn’t be disregarded! Let me share with you the things that are deal breakers for me:

l Hang your ego at the door

My observation has been that many client-agency relationships are ruined by power games. Usually a “big” client wants it known that they sign the cheques and, therefore, they wield the power in the relationship. They treat people badly — keeping them waiting, not returning calls or responding to emails, cancelling meetings willy-nilly, and setting impossible deadlines.

Simply put: They are bullies. Unfortunately what the client doesn’t realise is that this behaviour costs him money, talent and time. He may never realise that certain service providers have started to load their rates with “agro fees” for the anticipated aggravation of working with him.

l You have to know what you want

It is very difficult to deliver what someone wants if they are unable to tell you what that is. Sometimes the ask is buried in so many words that finding it is about as easy as locating a needle in a haystack. In the good old days they used to talk about “the freedom of a tight brief”.

Ultimately this means that a clear succinct brief will result in relevant creative ideas, that deliver the solutions clients need. When the brief is vague, rambling and, well … loose, then the outcome in unlikely to be on point. To get the best out of a creative team, give them a simple concise brief, then provide additional information for background reading.

l Be honest about money and time

I imagine that every employed adult in Zimbabwe has at one time or another done work and not been paid for it — whether by a client or an employer. This is one of the most infuriating and disheartening situations to find oneself in. It erodes confidence and trust, nurtures resentment and can result in ugliness all around.

Good clients ask what the job costs, and are honest about their ability to pay. It is then up to the supplier to accept or reject the conditions. Having people do the work and then failing to pay them is tantamount to stealing. And that’s not okay.

l Give the job to someone you trust

Trust is such an important part of doing business that it seems superfluous that we should even mention it. Often the person who has trust issues doesn’t realise he has them — he just thinks he is being responsible and conscientious. In reality he can’t bear to leave anyone alone with his “baby” for more than a few minutes.

He keeps looking over the shoulder of the service provider and getting in the way of their capacity to deliver good work.

If you hire someone to do something, brief them and then let them do the job you hired them to do. Otherwise you become like the guy who buys a dog but continues to do his own barking!

l Be generous with your feedback

One of the best ways to get what you want out of a service provider is to give good, honest and constructive feedback. This applies to both good and bad feedback.

Also be ready to receive feedback from your service provider. Comment on the quality of work, the delivery time, your perception of value for money and any areas that exceeded or fell under your expectation. When delivered fairly, regular feedback can form a solid foundation for a really good relationship in the future.

l Stay in the relationship

I recall once as a junior account executive being assigned to a client who sold tractors and other farming equipment, mostly to white commercial farmers. When I landed on his doorstep for my first meeting, he was outraged that they would send “a little black girl” to work on his account.

Fortunately my boss at the time was a gem and he calmly assured the client that he would get just as much value from me as any other executive on the team. That man went on to become one of my favourite clients, and our relationship outlasted my time with the agency. If either of us had balked at the onset, we would have missed out on what would possibly become a lifelong friendship, quite apart from an enriching work experience.

A good relationship is worth fighting for — sometimes you won’t know it’s a good one until you’ve stuck around for a bit.

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