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Back in the early “90’s” when I first started out in this business, I was insatiably hungry for any great content on the subject of advertising. As a young account coordinator, I knew then, as I do now, that there are a lot of smart people out there who are willing to share their wisdom and I shouldn’t be shy about wanting to take my fair share. I consumed all of the popular advertising books as well as many printed (yes, printed!) periodicals I could get my hands on. One amazing find was on page 38 of the January 4, 1993 edition of ADWEEK. It was written by Mark Goldstein, who at that time was president of the DC-area agency Earle Palmer Brown. The “article” was not really an article at all, but as titled, “Great Clients Mean Great Advertising”, it was a list of 26 factors that determined how a client should behave in order to get the best results from their agency. It was pure gold.

27 years later, I still have the article hanging on my office wall and have shared it religiously – in its original form – whenever we take on a new, long-term client. Most clients are appreciative of the information and find inspiration in it. And, while not every client I’ve had has hit every factor, the ones that have been most successful (just like Goldstein wrote in 1993) have practiced the majority of what the list preaches.  

So, if you’re a client of an ad agency out there, please take note and ask yourself if you are in fact a “great” client. Or are you holding something back and causing your agency to under perform because you’re not providing the best environment for them to do great things, for you?

If you’re a younger – or older – agency person looking to improve your client relationships, and in turn their business, print this out and give it to them. It may be the impetus needed to go from good to great!

As published in 1993:

We recently looked at the most creative, most effective work we’ve ever done. Interestingly, it wasn’t the client’s business category or our staffing that determined how good the work turned out. It was the client.

What makes a great client? Here are 26 factors. Do half of them and you’ll be ahead of the game.

1. Demand total immersion. Great clients involve their agency in the business from the get-go.

2. Brief the agency as you would a new CEO. Give the agency a complete picture, warts and all.

3. Don’t leave out information you think is irrelevant. Include administrative issues, finance, distribution, real estate, human resources issues.

4. Give your agency the right to fail. Not every idea will work. The trick is to learn from each so your batting average keeps improving.

5. Get the agency into the field. The more the agency can learn firsthand from your salespeople or distributors or franchisees, the more they’ll understand what you face.

6. Get the agency known at all levels of your company. The more ties between the agency and your company, the more resources you’ll have. Remember, you’re establishing a relationship between companies, not just between a marketing director and an agency manager.

7. Involve your CEO in marketing decisions, both strategically and executionally. Great marketing almost always requires bold decisions. If your CEO’s are not involved, those decisions will never happen.

8. Set clear, measurable goals with the agency. In other words, what gets measured gets done.

9. Give the agency your sales results – regularly. Sure, this is obvious. But do you do it?

10. Let the agency voice an opinion without the risk of being fired. The result is that neither party carries baggage, issues are addressed and solved quickly, and both can go about the business of building the business without distraction.

11. Criticize constructively. Praise effusively. Great clients are quick to praise, just as quick to express dissatisfaction, and never leave the agency unsure of the next steps on a program.

12. If the chemistry is wrong, say so. Never hesitate to ask for a change in personnel if someone assigned to your business is a bad fit. But check first to see if the bad fit is your fault.

13. Invest in bonding. It goes a long way. Take time for those little social moments. People who like each other work harder for each other.

14. Insist on knowing the people who work on your business. Spend time with the creative guys. Get to know the media folks. Let them know your vision for the business.

15. Enjoy the oddballs. They may just make you a hero. The agency business is filled with all kinds of people. The more tolerant you are of the range of people at the agency, the more you’ll benefit from their intelligence and creativity.

16. Don’t let advertising become the battleground of corporate strategy. It’s bad clients who change the creative workplan after seeing the work.

17. Let the agency take the work up the line. The team developed it. The team should present it.

18. When you evaluate creative work, put down your pencil. State your concerns, and then let the agency bring back the answer. You’ll get better work.

19. Focus on ideas, not nits. The way to get branded as the client from hell is to micromanage by asking, “Did you try it with the headline at the bottom? At the side? On the left? With the bigger picture? With the logo in red?”

20. Don’t settle for less than your agency’s best work. Find out under what conditions the agency’s best work was created and match them.

21. Be brave. Show your agency that you’re willing to entertain surprising ideas. You just might find the nugget that will pay off in a big way.

22. Offer to pay the cost of your industry awards. It’s great to be lauded for having the best advertising within your industry.

23. Make the time to “blue sky.” Go off-campus with the agency’s management. You’ll get some of the best ideas of the year.

24. Fight for the right tone of voice. A great client can tell in a nanosecond if the advertising feels discordant.

25. Make sure the agency contract allows them to make money. If you do, they’ll be able to reward their people, hire better ones, do internal training and provide extra service when needed.

26. Be the best client an agency has. Make this your goal. Focus on having the agency’s best people itching to work on your account. Guess what the result will be?

The world needs more great clients, just as it needs more great ad professionals. The more you have of the former, the more we’ll have of the latter.

Thanks, Mark!

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