Client, Know Thyself

By Jill | Editorial, , , , , ,

So, you know you need a firm to help your communication efforts and you’ve spent the past month constructing the perfect request for proposal to ensure you find just the right partner for you.

What could possibly go wrong?


A lot, actually. Most RFPs are built to give agencies the basic information about what your company is trying to achieve. But they miss an essential element of successful client-agency relationships: How you really work.

This type of insight might seem unnecessary, but you would be surprised at the number of client-agency relationships that crumble because of a mismatch in work styles. Many people assume that if a firm can help them hit their communication goals, then everything else will just fall into place.

After more than 20 years in communications, I can say that this is big misconception – and one that can hinder great client-agency relationships.

The best, most productive client-agency relationships are like a marriage. They are built on trust, understanding and a clear grasp of what the other requires. So, by only listing your “wants” in an RFP, such as the tactics you want incorporated or goals you want to achieve, you aren’t giving prospective partners a real idea of your preferred work style, which is essentially the “needs” in the equation.

How do you define your desired work style and a successful client-agency relationship? Consider some of the following questions (and accompanying rationale):


  • Do you want a group that is strategic or one that is simply going to implement what you say?
    • There are firms that are highly strategic. These groups are not happy with simply taking orders. They want to provide big and/or very targeted ideas; messaging that takes into account what you want to say, as well as the current environment; and counsel to the company on the direction of a sales, marketing or business plan. Then there are agencies that can best be described as leaning more toward the implementation side. They wait for you to give them orders and act against them. Both approaches have their benefit, but you have to know going in what you want; otherwise, you will likely be annoyed when a strategic firm questions your messaging rather than simply regurgitating it if that’s what you really want.
  • How do you work?
    • Are you more likely to provide a week to draft a press release or do you tend to ask a release at the last minute and need it within 24 hours? Do you expect to be able to give instructions at 6 p.m. each day and have those instructions completed by the next morning? Communication firms can and will work in any number of ways and often adjust their style to a client based on the situation, but there are those that are willing to work in fire drill mode and there are those that aren’t.
  • What kind of attention span does your company have?
    • I have worked with companies at both ends of the spectrum – those that have wanted to invest only in big ideas that could be implemented in three months or less and others that have been willing to invest two years or more to bring an idea to fruition. Most generally fall somewhere in between the extremes, but only by understanding how fast a company needs to see results from a program to deem it a success can a firm meet a company’s needs.
  • How do you measure success?
    • During the RFP process, agencies are famous for asking, “What does success look like to you?” By the same token, clients are famous for asking, “What measurement tools do you use?” The reality is that neither of these questions really gets to the heart of the matter. What matters is what the company measures on an ongoing basis. One article in The Wall Street Journal (a common answer clients provide when asked what does success look like) isn’t likely to cut it long-term for a company that measures the success or failure of a communications program by attaining a certain number of placements every month.


Again, all of this might seem simple or rudimentary or even unnecessary, but knowing what you really need out of the relationship with a communications partner can keep you both from facing eventual heartache.

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