Thoughts
January 10, 2022

Client School: Have the respect to say no

There are lots of resources out there for creatives and makers looking to become better at their craft, right alongside a whole library of resources about the nuts and bolts of business. But there isn’t quite as much to find about how to be on the other side of the equation — how to be a good client and get the best work out of your agency partners. (Though there is one book I can wholeheartedly recommend: You’re My Favorite Client by the always-insightful Mike Monteiro.)

So, I figured since I am now safely on the other side after selling my ten-year-old marketing agency, I’ll spend a little time dishing out advice for clients on how to find the best partners and get the best work out of them. There’s no ulterior motive here as I don’t have a dog in this fight anymore, so I’m free to tell you all the nasty bits. Let’s start with the biggest early-relationship headache from the agency side:

If you get a proposal, respond. Even if it’s a no.

Nothing is more universal when I speak to other agency executives than one frustration: their absolute rage when they pour time and resources into a proposal or a pitch, just to send it off into a black hole and receive deafening, endless radio silence.

It’s true that the most efficient agencies will have some bits they plug and play depending on the pitch. But it’s also true that the most effective agencies spill a good deal of sweat in the process of creating a bespoke proposal that actually addresses the brief and can win the bid. And while every agency would love the end result of that effort to be a signed contract, business development pros know that most pitches will end in a pass.

Losing a pitch sucks. But you lose most pitches, that’s part of the game.

When you, as a client, engage in the new business process, you are taking on a responsibility to be respectful of your counterparts. You don’t owe them a win, but you owe them an answer. Careers and memories are long, and ghosting those you’ve invited to the dance with means that the agency will be left with a frustrating question mark on their board and you’ve established a reputation as an unserious client.

Striking out is fine, but at least the umpire calls you out. You don’t just leave the batter standing at the plate as people slowly shuffle out of the stadium assuming it’s game over.

The first step in a good client relationship is to acknowledge that it is a two-way street. That begins with having the respect for yourself and others to give an answer.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, has a book coming out in 2023, and works with some cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

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