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The culture of client relationships

The culture of client relationships


The culture of client relationships

During thirty-three years in this game I’ve only had one client negotiate a fee proposal up rather than down.

We’d been overservicing this account compared to the retainer. So my boss and I analysed the timesheets and agonised over how to pitch the proposal with the right blend of conviction and respect.

We travelled north to make our case. Our clients listened intently, but with more stony faced expressions than we were used to. At the end of our patter there was a long pause, after which the senior client said simply, “No.”

There was another pause while they savoured our crestfallen expressions. Then they burst out laughing. They watched our dismay turn to bemusement before saying, “It’s not enough.” Then they made a counter-proposal to increase the agency’s fee by more than we had asked for.

The gesture didn’t cost them very much, but they reaped huge value from it. The news of what had happened went round the agency like wildfire. They weren’t our biggest client by any means, but this act cemented them as a firm favourite. It bought them more than their share of senior management attention, it bought them agency-wide commitment, it bought them access to creative and production resources that technically didn’t exist according to the schedule.

The client was Derwent Valley Foods, makers of Phileas Fogg authentic, premium snacks. They were a singularly special client.

As well as being the only client I’ve known to pay more than asked, they were one of the few clients I’ve had that regularly pushed us to be more daring with their creative work, rather than pulling the agency back. They knew that, as a relatively small player, they had to make their media spend work harder. They wanted maximum creative bang for their modest media buck, just as they wanted their modest fee to buy them maximum attention from their agency. They paid well, they wanted great work, and they were great fun. Whenever we had lunch or dinner with them, we’d play Spoof for who would pick up the bill.

The culture of client relationships is vitally important. But, all too often, it is left to the agency as the supplier in a relationship of unequals to make the running to establish a culture that is conducive to great work and mutual commercial benefit. Based on this sample of one I’d suggest that the return on investment is huge for any client that makes the effort.

Punjab Airways - the culture of client relationships
An unlikely illustration of the culture of client relationships

The image is a still from a Phileas Fogg commercial called “Punjab Airways”. Phileas Fogg Punjab Puri snacks were so authentic that a commercial airline created a route between India and County Durham so that people could buy them at source. And who, I wonder, is that slim 26 year old walk-on actor, blowing up the aeroplane tyre with a bike pump?


A version of this post was first published on LinkedIn – The culture of client relationships

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