But over the years, I’ve become more and more forthright in the belief that the best relationships we foster with clients are the ones where we are an active partner rather than a supplier. And I think you can trace this all the way back to the start of the relationship and how both parties behave in the engagement.
The convention about hiring creative agencies is so hopelessly one-sided that it’s laughable:
Client needs an agency. Write a one-page brief. Send it to 5 agencies. Get them to do a free pitch. Choose the one you like best. Job done.
I’ve perhaps exaggerated this to make my point, and I accept that not all clients do this and not all agencies comply. But, I’d say it’s still the received wisdom within companies on how to buy creative services.
So, this isn’t going to be a rant about how unfair free pitches are. There are tons written on this topic, and the bottom line for me is: no one’s holding a gun to your head. Don’t take part. Say no and find a way to express the value you add to your clients that elevates you above that discussion.
I think the much more interesting thing is to explore what I’m calling our rules for engagement. It’s a New Client Policy that sets out our own set of principles for taking on a new client. Why? Well in almost every brief, or agency hiring process, the client tells us what the rules of engagement will be: from the core competencies and experience they’re looking for through to expectations around timings and budget. And they’re right to do so. It’s important.
Thing is, it’s important to us too, so why shouldn’t we state what we ‘expect’ from the engagement too? After all, we’re just as interested in finding the right client fit. One that allows us to do our best work and bring the maximum value for the client’s budget. We’ve been doing it for long enough to have a pretty good idea about the clients that we work well with and the ones we don’t. I think that this is one of our primary responsibilities, and I see it as a client benefit. If they know we’re taking these decisions very seriously - for their sake as well as ours - then it’s demonstrating a professionalism that I believe is wholly lacking in our sector.
There are so many agencies out there that don’t do this, that will claim to be an expert in any form and would never take a second to think about whether this particular client is a good fit for them. They probably haven’t even stopped to think that this might even differentiate them in the sale process and add credence to their own particular claim of competence.
It’s not arrogance, looking to turn the tables on the potential client. It’s a professional responsibility to cut through the bullshit at the start of these engagements - especially if it’s a competitive scenario where the potential client might be looking for a pitch.
So, before launching headlong into a checklist of points that will determine whether we’ll work for a client or not, I want to point out that we’ve not launched this yet, and we’re not 100% sure how it’ll be used. Whether it’ll even exist as a client-facing document. It’s not going to be a binary scenario. Every potential engagement will be different, and we may choose to compromise on some points over others, depending on the opportunity. The important thing is that at least we’re having that discussion amongst ourselves and with the client.
(And, full disclosure before I start, credit to Blair Enns from Win Without Pitching who first suggested this idea - some of the points on the list below are his).
Good’s New Client Engagement Policy:
We believe that any potential new client’s agency selection process has to fit with our new client policy, as outlined below:
Fee For Service.
Our clients benefit from and compensate the agency for the strategic counsel of our senior planning, creative and digital personnel. This fee-for-service arrangement applies to companies interested in working with, but not yet engaged with the agency.
No Free Pitching.
We do not engage in unpaid speculative work of any kind (strategy, creative, digital or other) that would see valuable resource diverted away from paying clients.
Our business is geared to engage with clients who will spend a minimum of £30K on an initial project.
Our belief is that we deliver the most added value for clients over the long term and look to cultivate relationships over transactions.
Does the task outlined in the brief play to our core belief of “helping complex, global companies to rethink their brand for a digital-first world”.
If you would like an agency proposal on how we might help your organisation, then please outline your business, or brand challenge on one page, and email to [email protected].
We do not offer any revisions or discounts off our published rate card unless the client is spending £500K within a 12 month period.
I realise that in black and white this might look quite presumptuous on behalf of the agency, but I think that it stakes out a territory and speaks to who we are as a firm. Having the ability to rule opportunity in or out on the basis of this checklist will save everyone time, money and heartache in the long run.
All we need to do now is decide how discreet we are with it. Plaster it all over the website, or keep it in a drawer for emergency use only? I guess it depends on how many free pitch requests we get.