Though agencies loudly tout the importance of transparency, ongoing federal probes show that clients—and the public—still struggle to trust advertising agencies. The ongoing industry conversation about media transparency was shocked into life by the Association of National Advertisers‘ 58-page anonymously sourced 2016 report, detailing agencies’ widespread use of opaque business practices such as kickbacks.
The report sent shockwaves through the advertising community, and our continued conversation is a testament to the pervasiveness of the transparency issue. We continuously see calls for “radical transparency,” and while many agencies now leverage it as a competitive advantage, still many fall short.
So how can we move forward? The answer is simple but not easy. If you want to gain clients’ trust, you can’t view them as mere revenue streams. You have to build meaningful relationships grounded in transparency and invest in helping them succeed long-term.
Four ways to build winning relationships
I’m all too familiar with agencies that take churn-and-burn approaches to clients. They go through dozens—even hundreds—of clients a year, and if things don’t work out, they simply move on. This approach makes absolutely no sense to me.
Building meaningful client relationships means determining how you can add value to a client’s business. The reality is, you won’t be able to help everyone win: Advertising doesn’t come with a 100% success guarantee. But profiting from clients’ losses isn’t a winning formula, either. Your goals need to be aligned so that when clients win, you win.
Here are four key ways to help you build more meaningful relationships with your clients.
1. Deliver—and demand—ultra-transparency
Transparency is paramount to building trust. While you need to be fully transparent with your clients, it’s equally important that they’re fully transparent with you. There’s a direct correlation between the clients who are fully transparent with their numbers and goals and the ones we have the most success with, because the ideas and recommendations we provide are only as valuable as the information they’re based on. The more accurate the information we have, the better the decisions we make.
2. Prioritize face time
Technology has made it way too easy to communicate at a distance, but breaking bread in person with clients is far more valuable than you might think. Meeting them outside the day-to-day chaos of business not only helps you develop an actual friendship, but it can often lead to additional opportunities. Referrals have long been one of the most powerful ways to gain better clients and grow an agency: 65% of agencies cite referrals as their primary source of business. So communicate with technology when necessary, but sitting around a modern-day campfire with your clients will encourage the kind of trust and affinity that email, text, or Skype can’t.
3. Add value first
Advertising Hall of Famer Lester Wunderman’s advice to never walk into a client meeting without at least one new idea has always guided me. Whether you’re proposing a new idea, explaining a new opportunity, or providing some insightful research—adding value first (before you ask for anything in return) will continually reassure clients that you were the right choice. The more value you add, the more trust you earn, and the more clients will reward you with their loyalty and repeat business.
4. Reframe problems as opportunities
How you react in tricky situations can either add to or detract from the trust you’ve built with a client. Instead of becoming paralyzed or making snap judgment calls, approach every challenge as an opportunity to uncover a creative solution. Handling an obstacle with poise, ingenuity, and professionalism will enhance your relationship. The greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity for you to shine.
The ANA’s report brought to light a pervasive industry problem, and many agencies are still fighting to resolve it. It’s clear that those agencies that can build and nurture meaningful relationships will come out on top. By being transparent, getting out from behind your desk, looking for ways to deliver more value, and seeing problems as gifts, you’ll put yourself on the path to long-term growth and success.