I’ve also experienced it firsthand.
The client proposes an idea and asks for your advice, you give it, and they proceed to do the exact opposite of what you advised. Your team is then stuck with the unenviable task of executing the client’s plan that you are not in favor of.
What happens next? One of two things:
- Your team does as well as can be expected, the results are OK at best, and you move on to the next project with a sigh of relief that the client didn’t fully blame you for the results.
- Your team does as well as can be expected, the results are OK at best, and the client blames your team for not doing a better job.
Clearly, these are not situations anyone wants to be in where you are set up for failure. But too often this is happening between agencies and their clients. Makes me wonder why some agencies don’t just change their name to “We Do What We’re Told, Inc.” or “We Don’t Want To Do Amazing Work, Inc.”
So who’s to blame for going along with everything a client tells you to do? The team lead? Upper management? In some cases an agency has no choice but to do what the client asks because they need the business. That’s fine, but how long are you going to keep that business and how are you going to attract new business prospects when all you do is average work? I know I don’t want to work at an agency like that. Do you?
If our specialty really is communicating, then we need to start proving it a lot more. If you disagree with the direction of a client campaign or program plan, say something! Don’t just keep your mouth shut or only push back a little bit because you don’t want to upset the client and you want to keep being best friends with them. Being best friends with a client is not in our job description. We’re supposed to be their counselors who advise them on the best ways to move forward to meet their goals and objectives.
It’s our job as PR pros to always challenge clients and bring different thoughts and perspectives to the table. If you sit around and agree with everything a client proposes (or don’t challenge their thinking at times), well, you are just going to end up being another PR pro who is OK collecting a paycheck and going along with the status quo. And ya know what? That’s OK.
But if you don’t want to be just another person on the team, I suggest you take a different approach. Offer different viewpoints, back-up your case with specific reasons and examples of why you feel the way you do, push the client to make this the best campaign it can be. Don’t go on and on if the client is just not getting it, but feel out the situation and do your best accordingly. And by doing this it doesn’t mean you are going to get your way or that every time you speak up you are on your way to being a good counselor. But at least you are showing the client that you have put a lot of thought into this and are there to provide as much advice as possible. Remember that more times than not it’s the agency that ends up being the scapegoat when a campaign goes sour. You don’t want to get caught at the end of a failed campaign knowing that you didn’t speak up when you had the opportunity.
Either way you slice it, none of these situations are easy to take on, but know that you should speak up when the time is right and that it’s OK to disagree with a client at times. I don’t have all of the answers, and I know that it’s easier said than done to push back on a client, but many of us need to be trying harder (myself included) to make sure that the campaigns we’re working on are positioned for success and we’re not just doing things for the sake of it.
With that in mind, I’d love to hear from agency folks who have been doing this throughout their career. Do you have any suggestions on how you can push back on a client in a professional way? Any examples of what’s worked/hasn’t worked in the past to get your client’s attention? How can you educate a client with a big ego to accept that their initial thoughts and ideas may not be the right way to go?
Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.
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