Your clients care more about how the work is managed and delivered than the work itself. Many of you are going to disagree with that statement, and I'm fine with that, but I wanted to put it in a separate paragraph just to be very clear about what I've noticed when listening to hundreds of your clients over the years. Yes, I can't count how many times they've told me that they place great value on an agency that "gets it" in their ability to listen, push the envelope appropriately, and consistently hit home runs out of the park. But the work itself just needs to be good enough (that is not a negative in spite of the way it sounds), while the management and delivery of that work needs to be remarkable.
Here are some of the forces that are working against that premise. These are why the work is often valued over how the work is delivered.
First, your employees care about the work they do. So much, in fact, that they find it very difficult to apply a measured effort to each project, instead lavishing great amounts of attention on everything, whether the client is paying for it or not. Their work is informed by their own very high standard rather than what the client would find acceptable. If any particular client isn't willing to pay for what the employee wants to do, the actual target becomes "the book" or the "body of work" that will be used to snag deserving clients later. This is a good problem to have, but it can be difficult to make money in this environment, and those who are managing and delivering the work will have a real challenge in hitting budgets and deadlines.
Second, your industry doesn't give out awards for great traffic or great account service. They should, but they don't. Nearly every award is centered around the admiration of peers instead of the admiration of clients.
Third, hardly anybody starts a firm like yours as an expert in traffic, production management, or account service. Instead, you started as an expert technician in something, whether public relations, advertising, design, account planning, copywriting, media planning, or whatever. So from the very beginning you set out to sell that. This thing you did was the core competency and all the rest was fluff. Chances are you didn't even feel comfortable charging (or charging enough) for the services that were wrapped around that core competency, and perhaps you even hid them in estimates and invoices.
Sometimes the people who allow you to do great work need a lot more attention than the people who do the work that you sell. These folks are the offensive line who allow the quarterback and running back to move the ball down the field. It's a thankless job to help other people succeed, but a great offensive line can make even a mediocre quarterback look pretty good. Yet a great quarterback is nothing without a strong offensive line.
You know what else? Nearly every mistake you'll make in structuring roles at your firm will relate in some way to how you handle the coordinating of the work you do and the interfacing between the firm and your client. These employees are the core of what clients value and notice. And they're likely to care about how the work is delivered long before they notice mistakes in the work itself.
This article has been reprinted with permission from David C. Baker of ReCourses, Inc. ReCourses, Inc. is the leading management consulting firm that works exclusively with small service providers in the marketing industry. For more information, please visit
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