Great clients get great advertising

It’s often said that “great clients get great advertising”.  But how do you become a “great” agency client…?

Here are my top ten tips:

  1. Provide great briefings… focused, net, written.   Provide simple, one-sentence objectives for the ad, a one-sentence value proposition, and a clear description of the intended audience.   Sure, back it up with data on audience insights, details of the broader campaign, etc.   But keep the key elements clear and simple.
  2. Set high standards… Challenge your agency to deliver excellent work, and “walk the talk” by demonstrating excellence in your own contributions to the project.    Don’t settle for average work – lower standards spread like a cancer.
  3. Host a formal performance dialogue… At regular intervals (say, bi-yearly) rate the agency’s performance against key metrics.  And have them rate you as a client.   Keep the dialogue honest and supportive, with a goal of mutual improvement.
  4. Make their work enjoyable… We all produce better work when we’re enjoying what what we do.  While you can berate an agency team into average work, you have to inspire them to great work.   Set shared goals with mutual rewards (“let’s place at Cannes this year!”) and help the creative task be equal parts challenging, fun and rewarding.
  5. Partner for success… Partners are better than mere suppliers.  Making a genuine commitment to an agency, and sharing your deep business details with them, is frequently rewarded by more insightful agency work.
  6. Insist on a strong team… Too often, the last you see of the fantastic agency team who originally won your account is at the contract signing ceremony.  When you go out to tender, ask that the team who bids for your account be (largely) the same account team who will work on your business.  Agree reasonable timeframes for team turnover, and equivalent experience and performance from successors.
  7. Reward results… Great work in their portfolio, and industry awards, should only be part of an agency’s rewards.  I favour fee arrangements which include performance incentives based on quantifiable metrics (eg. leads, sales, improvement in Brand metrics).
  8. Be a great reviewer… Review agency work against the specific brief that you wrote. It’s unreasonable to reject an ad which meets your brief just because “you don’t like the look of it”.  (This is another reason why it’s so important to write a great Brief in the first place.)
  9. Resist the urge to clutter… Ads need to be arresting and focused.   Too many potentially great ads have been strangled to death by clients who insisted on cluttering them up with laundry lists of features, logos and disclaimers.
  10. Don’t be too logical… Some of the best ads in the world were never published because a client pulled the plug.  In this media weary world, “off the wall, illogical and weird” are often exactly the qualities which can make an ad cut through the competitive clutter and seize audience attention.

Even when you do your best to be a great client, sometimes you need to part ways with your agency partner.   If the work has slipped into uninspired familiarity, and there’s a sense of complacency in the air, perhaps the best option is to walk away and call for new tenders for your account.

If you do reach that point, do continue to be respectful of the former relationship.  Don’t trash the agency’s reputation in the industry, or get involved in the gossip game.   In a small industry like advertising, what goes around does tend to come around.


  1. Excellent piece, Greg.
    Leo Burnett in his 100 LEO’s had remarked
    “I have learnt that you can’t have good advertising without a good client, that you can’t keep a good client without good advertising“. .
    As we see it is a two way partnership.
    We come across a lot of mediocre work which is not just waste of money but to a large extent weakening the brand from its pedestal.
    This will continue as long as we consider Agencies as mere creative deliverers than as brand custodians /strategic partners

    1. Good point, Dathesh. In fact, reading my page above, I realise that while I mentioned ‘partnership’, I narrowly defined it in terms of just fee arrangement. I’ve edited the page to make it clearer that genuine partnership is a better aspiration.

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