Franco’s Renaissance Readers Book Club recently convened to discuss our takeaways from Robert Solomon’s The Art of Client Service: 52 Things Every Advertising and Marketing Professional Should Know. The book is a guide to, in Solomon’s words, “define, delineate, and describe in detail what a client service person does to produce stellar work and forge deeper, more enduring relationships with their clients.” In 52 digestible chapters, Solomon lays out a blueprint for harmony between an agency and its clients, easily condensed into a neat illustration he dubs “the trust triangle:”
The “trust triangle” was borne out of Solomon’s revelation that great work doesn’t lead to a great relationship between agency and client, but rather, the reverse: great work entails risk, and if the connection between client and agency is weak, both parties will be less willing to take a necessary risk. Public relations is the business of persuasion, and persuasion is impossible without a real connection both with those whom you’re persuading and persuading for. In our case, and in the case of all public relations and marketing agencies, these are our clients, our clients’ clients, and the public. Everything we do at Franco is focused on who to connect, what to connect them about, when and where to make the connection, why that connection is important and how it can be useful to each of those groups.
Franco’s ability to form meaningful connections is predicated on our dedication to six core values: forward motion, opportunity, family+team+community, courageous truth, empathy and persistence. However, values without action are just words. In The Art of Client Service, Solomon describes some common agency issues he faced in his career in advertising, along with ways in which he and his colleagues overcame those issues. Below are some excerpts describing real issues outlined by Solomon in his book, along with resolutions employing one of Franco’s aforementioned core values:
Excerpt #1: “Meetings are a staple of business – including the advertising and marketing business, in which collaboration is key – but they are notoriously screwed up.”
Core value: Forward motion – taking deliberate, adaptive and/or motivating actions that draw on our inner spirit and tenacity to achieve a relevant objective, goal or vision
Time is money, and meetings can take up a lot of time. The key is to start and end meetings on time, no matter what. With client meetings, agencies certainly try to be punctual. But with internal meetings, everybody tends to keep everyone else waiting. It takes deliberate action and forward motion from every employee to make meetings speedier and more time-efficient. Employees at an agency should always be thinking of ways to streamline their work, however innocuous the work may seem – and however incremental the improvement may be.
Excerpt #2: “There were safer alternatives on the wall, but my creative colleagues and I were convinced that one particular concept was right for the client. We were, however, having trouble convincing our boss, the head of the agency. We must have argued for an hour. He wanted to kill the idea. We wanted to make it our recommendation”
Core value: Opportunity – a company culture and environment that supports and inspires employee and client development.
“Good work is the enemy of great work.” If you are satisfied with work that is merely good, you will never deliver great work for your clients. Great work is something rare and special – it doesn’t just respect the viewer, it connects with the viewer. Although “passable” work may satisfy a client’s request, it does a disservice to an agency’s potential. “Safe” work relies on convention – “we’re doing it this way because it worked when we did it this way before” – but the best ideas are never conventional. The best ideas require risk, and the willingness to jump at an opportunity and trust that the client will see things the same way.
Excerpt #3: “So there I was, looking with Myron at maybe 15 ideas slapped up on the walls of the agency conference room. I liked maybe five of them. Another five or six were serviceable. The rest, I thought, were losers…The problem was, (my colleague) Myron thought a couple of the ads I didn’t like were among the strongest on the wall.”
Core value: Family+Team+Community – a safe-place where we take time to understand each other, care for each other, win, lose and find greater purpose.
Fight about the work with colleagues; fight for it with clients. An account person shouldn’t be afraid to disagree with a coworker if they truly believe their opinion and can back it up with facts. However, though disagreement is often key to arriving at the right solution, it’s important to first understand where a colleague is coming from before bringing judgment. Employees at an agency owe each other a fair and honest opinion of each other’s work, and that’s impossible to provide without taking the time to fully understanding a colleague’s perspective. At the end of the day, all parties in a client/agency relationship are on the same team. The ultimate goal of an account person shouldn’t be proving themselves right, but doing what is right for the team – account team, agency and client included.
Excerpt #4: “One of the by-products of a poorly formulated and executed scope of work is something known as ‘scope creep’…Most clients I know want to get as much service as they can for the least amount of money they can pay. No problem there, except when it leads clients to request work that is ‘out of scope,’ meaning not accounted or budgeted for. In their willingness to be flexible, or in the fear of losing an account, agencies give in to scope-creep demands all too often.”
Core value: Courageous truth – daring to remain authentic and true to our values when expressing our beliefs and/or making decisions, despite the consequences
No advertising or marketing services firm is immune to scope creep. It happens to nearly every agency, although most aren’t even aware it’s happening. The best way to deal with scope creep is to do a scope of work for every assignment, no matter how small it is, how tight the schedule or demanding the client. It may not be the most convenient decision given these factors, but it is never a bad decision. An agency must be clear and deliberate about the work they plan to perform from the get-go, and honest with a client if scope creep starts becoming an issue. At the end of the day, scope creep harms both parties – agencies will wind up overworked and clients will feel as though they’re lacking adequate support – so it’s best to be truthful about the expected scope of work both prior to the start of said work and whenever it begins to creep up in size, for the greater good of the client/agency relationship.
Excerpt #5: “In new business pitches, clients often claim to seek a relationship with an agency, yet select the winner based on which shop presented the work they liked best. Conversely, with existing accounts, clients often say it’s the work that matters, yet fire their agency because of a breakdown in the relationship.”
Core value: Empathy – ability to listen and consider others’ thoughts and feelings (appreciating their perspective) before passing judgement or taking action.
Live the client’s brand. Dig deeply into issues and work to uncover new insights which can help a client grow its business. Observe your client’s culture, people and business from every perspective you can and empathize with their perspective to form a more open and amiable relationship. To represent a client effectively, an agency must fully understand what it means to be in their position, but most of all, they must be trusted to provide the client with honest and accurate counsel. Empathy is key to forming great client relationships, and a great relationship allows great work to flourish.
Excerpt #6: “If we’re reasonably good at what we do, there comes a time when someone – a recruiter, a colleague, perhaps a competitor – will say, ‘Get me (your name here)!’ That’s a happy moment, one that all of us would like to prolong for as long as possible. How do we do this?”
Core value: Persistence – tenacity to get the outcomes we expect (that meet or exceed our standards)
One should strive to become a “go-to person” in whatever profession they hold. For those in public relations, it could mean becoming an expert copywriter or proofreader, mastering a certain social media channel, training yourself extensively in all agency programs and systems, or simply becoming a rock of reliability that clients can trust when called upon. Many people have exceptional abilities, but it takes commitment, consistency and persistence to have others say “Get me you!”
These six excerpts don’t even begin to describe the wealth of tips and information that exist within The Art of Client Service’s pages. But they do serve as a guide to Franco’s values, and how those values can be used practically in the workplace. While the Renaissance Readers enjoyed snacking and chatting over yet another great piece of literature, we made sure to pay close attention to the ways in which Solomon’s methods can be applied to bolster our personal “trust triangles” and serve our clients more effectively.
Chase Rossman is an assistant account executive at Franco. Send him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.