See it My Way

I spend a lot of time convincing people I have their best interest at heart.

When you work for an advertising agency, or any service provider for that matter, you typically take on the role of "vendor" -- such an ugly word -- in new client relationships. This classification infers that you a) charge too much, b) aren't trustworthy, and c) only know what you're talking about when your client says you do.

I've struggled with this from day one. And I've been doing it 13 years. As a service provider, aren't you hired for your expertise? Isn't the goal to partner with the client for the best possible mutual outcome?

I know this. And the clients with whom I have cultivated relationships with over the years know this, too. But when presented with new clients (or even worse, thrown into current clients who hate us where it's my job to save the business) it can be a real challenge to achieve partnership status.

I can't simply walk in there and say, "Look, I work for you. You hired me for expertise. I will exceed your expectations. I am highly ethical, I know what I'm talking about, and I will ensure what you pay me is worth each and every penny. I am your partner, and I will make you successful."

These statements are all true, but it takes years -- yes, years -- for them to see it my way, and thus earn their trust. My most recent changing of the guard took 1 year and 2 months to be exact.

It's a painful process. You have to bite your tongue, be overly diplomatic, offer services at no cost, and find ways to demonstrate your value within the limited scope they will share with you. You unfortunately also have to let them fall on their face when they don't heed your advice despite knowing it's not in their best interest and detrimental to the long-term strategy. For me, this is the worst part of the process. Because I know I can help. But they don't see it my way.

If you're lucky, after being the bigger person and thus the whipping boy for a long period of time the reward is trust and a true partnership. An exciting, professional, strategic, respectful relationship that produces excellent results and makes my job worth it every single day.

If you're not, you become saddled with a nightmare client that taxes your resources and your sanity and a partnership that will never reach potential. Do you keep the business, or do you resign it? I suppose it depends on how much shit you're willing to swallow for a little bit of profit. You could always pray for a miracle, but I am of the opinion of what a colleague (a.k.a. former client of the partnership variety) of mine recently said:

I can lead a horse to water. I can't make him drink, but I can drown the motherf*cker.


  1. Why can't you walk in and say that? Most clients would find that refreshing. I know I would. BTW, offering services at no charge means, "we don't see enough value in this to charge you for it." You don't want to be in that boat either.

  2. I can, and I have. It's the instant credibility factor that is sometimes hard to come by. Easier with a new new client, harder with a new to me client.

    Respectfully disagree on free services, if done right. Sometimes it takes the engagement to demonstrate the value. It's give and take for long term success. And it works. If done right (key point).


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