What makes a good client?

I posted this blog about a year ago, it seems to have got lost in a botched wordpress back up

This post relates to the previous post, but from the opposite perspective.  I have not amended it to include the last 14 months I have spent in the US (a separate post is required) but a key observed difference is the business culture here is more straightforward and frank discussions are more welcome.  That can only be a positive in enhancing the client agency relationship.

There is a clear paradox, an agency has to extend a certain amount of respect to clients as without them we no longer exist. Yet if we are too deferential then we move from the role of trusted partner to humble acolyte, which serves neither party in the long run.   So actually candour is very important in the agency-client relationship.

I should stress these are my views; this is less of a disclaimer, more recognition that those in the agency I work for and other agencies are likely to have different opinions and experiences. I will be interested to hear those.

So in no particular order:

Be open and transparent

After signing the required paperwork and being a supposed trusted partner I have had some strange experiences where the client in question must have been working for the FBI or MI5. Everything is on a ‘need to know basis’ Other agencies are working on the project / brand, yet what their role is, is made deliberately unclear. Even the project objectives appear top secret. These are extreme cases, however the more a client can open up about their business & personal goals, and overall approach, the more value a good agency can add!

Be honest

I am not accusing clients of lying here. The damning charge I cite is that they are often too nice! If a client has even the slightest concerns about the project delivery, approach, team chemistry or anything seemingly trivial, then it helps immensely to raise this up front before it festers into a bigger issue. As a client I was fairly candid to my agency partners, in hindsight I could have been even more so!

Be bold

A good agency will respond well to a client who has big ideas and is willing to disrupt the ‘usual’ way of doing things. As a client I found most agencies responded positively to being pushed. And if they don’t, give them some sharp feedback, if that still does not work then just fire them.

Be accountable

There will be times when a client screws up, missing key deadlines or actions. The agency is usually easy fodder for the blame even in a public forum. An agency may be prepared to take the ‘bollix bullet’ on behalf of the client but it is likely to be detrimental to the partnership

Be understanding

Agency folk are human, yet they will work with superhuman tenacity when it is required. The challenge back to the client is ‘does this absolutely have to be delivered by 9am in the morning?’. I have seen thankfully only a few cases where clients have demanded something at short notice, as a way of asserting their power over the agency. Often it is an internal miscommunication on the clients side that leads to an agency team working needlessly through the night. Clearly this can lead to some ill feeling.

Be responsive

Ok I used this one in my previous post as an essential agency quality. It applies equally on the other side. As a client, in the throes of business planning the last thing I wanted was to be ‘disturbed’ by my agencies. I have to admit deadlines sometimes suffered as a result of my tunnel vision.

Be clear

I am hoping as we reach #7 that this list does not already smack of pretentiousness. If any one of the number risks being labeled patronising and high-handed, it is this one, yet too many client briefs are either vague, unclear or contradictory.

From the busy perspective of the client side I have seen the pressures of time lead to incomplete briefs (Note: I chose not to use the word skimpy here) with the assumption that a good agency would ‘figure it out’. An agency’s creative talent should be unleashed on a clear brief rather than channeled into second guessing a clients desires.

Good brief + Good agency = Good result.

Hold your agency to account

This is not meant to sound one sided, rather using a mutually agreed metrics framework to assess project and agency success. This will help frame discussions re: point #2 above.

In the unfortunate event that it is not working out after sustained bilateral effort then it is better for both sides to go their separate ways

I hope the above list was useful and did not engender too much client hatred towards me. Any feedback or thoughts from client and agency persons would be most interesting.

Those were the days…?!

‘What sort of sandwiches do you call these?  Uuurrrgghh they are from Tesco! With all the money Pharma is making can’t you at least get lunch from Waitrose or M&S.  And where the hell are the prawns?’

These are some specific memories from a hospital lunch meeting over 10 years ago with a group of doctors from the Elderly Medicine department at a Birmingham hospital, however it was typical of such events.

I was a medical representative at the time, bringing the departmental staff a lunch in exchange for a miniscule amount of time to talk about my drug.

There clearly IS such thing as a free lunch as many of the doctors used to take a sandwich and walk off before the talk, I recall one of them muttering about the the quality of the mayonnaise and how the rep from Pfizer at least puts on a decent lunch (I wondered if she stayed for the Pfizer talk – probably not)

I started the talk, with such a dismal time allocation, that even if my pharmaceutical treatment was for premature ejaculation I would have struggled to reach a conclusion.  (Nothing so exciting unfortunately – Gastric reflux)

If it was not bad enough that my words were smashing down on the stony ground of disinterest, one doctor began talking loudly on his mobile phone, I forced myself uncomfortably on, trying to explain to the group with something approaching passion that all Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) are not the same.

The doctor continued to talk on his mobile, then a loud interruption from the chair ‘I will only allow one conversation at a time here’ he boomed.

At last I thought, a return to some decorum.  I carried on talking but so did Nokia doctor.  The chair interceded again, even more forcefully ‘ I have told you only one conversation at a time!’ and it was then I realized he was talking to me.   ‘A doctor is on the phone this could be a life or death situation’

‘Fair enough but can’t he just cart his sandwich laden girth out of the room to check’ were the, thankfully,  unspoken words of my l’esprit d’escalier.

Anyway Nokia doctor soon concluded the conversation, his wife now clear what he was having for his tea that evening.  I was allowed to continue.

In the dying seconds I waffled something about how they should consider my PPI due to the low interactions with Warfarin in elderly patients.  The short discussion resulted with unanimous agreement from the doctors all PPI’s are the same and that they will continue to use the competitor product (Did I mention to them apparently it causes terrible diarrhea? – probably a bit late now…)

As I hurriedly grabbed my case and coat a few of the more helpful Doctors enthusiastically explained where the nearest Waitrose was for next time.

The reason for the anecdote is not to mock doctors or the pharma industry but rather highlight and contrast an historic unhealthy working or rather not-working relationship between the 2 parties.

Fortunately things are different now. The feedback via projects I work on and the forward thinking clinicians I speak to, is that there is an appetite to work with Pharma as equal partners to solve some of the challenges in the NHS.  Providing value, increasing efficiencies, improving patient outcomes, reducing hospital bed days through the use of innovative services and technology are just some examples.

The health service is moving on, but is the Pharmaceutical industry?

Will pharma seize this opportunity or will it be just another trip to Waitrose to stock up on the prawn sandwiches?