What Makes a Bad Client?

by Doug Carter, Creative Director at Ivor Andrew

Over the course of my career, I’ve been asked “What makes a great client?” consistently. 

I’ll get to that in a bit. But first, a horror story. I call it Lack of Trust.

Ask any Creative Director at any agency or design firm around the world what their biggest blockage to the creative artery is, and they’ll tell you it's a client that does not trust or value the experience of the agency. It’s universal.

Look at it this way. Your agency is there to make you look good and make your business thrive. You win if you simply trust them to do the job you hired them to do. And yet, agencies and firms work with clients who are only willing to use the creative as a group that executes their want and whim. They have no interest in listening to opinions or experience. 

It’s foolish. Period. 

Let’s say you hire a plumber to install your kitchen sink, then proceed to hover while they work and tell them exactly what they should be doing. That would be ridiculous, right? If you resorted to that method, the quality of the work would suffer and there would be mountains of wasted time. And yet, this happens constantly in the agency-client relationship. The experts aren’t trusted, the client does too much of the work, budgets are missed and the overall quality suffers.

Now, to be fair to the client, sometimes the agency is not doing good work. If that’s the case, it’s time to hire a different creative marketing agency. It’s in the client’s best interest to find a group that actually knows the brand and the target audience, then does the job at the highest level.

If your clients don’t trust the agency to do what's best for the company, then there’s no relationship with the agency. That isn't good for anyone involved. Trust the agency. Allow them to do what they do best, or cut ties.

So, What Makes a Great Client?

In my experience, it’s a combination of things. Kind of like what makes a great draft pick in that you have a list of tangible traits that you always look for, but you really don’t know what you get until long after you have spent some time together on the field.

The easy answer for a creative company like ours would be “clients that pay us a ton and let us do everything we want without getting in our way.” Hell yeah. Sure, bring me a dozen of those with deep marketing budgets that need to be spent before the end of the fiscal year. I love those clients and I bestow all the hugs and kisses. But for those who aren’t there yet, here’s how to be a great client for your agency.

1. Trust the agency. As mentioned above. Trust is earned, but to some degree you trust a professional to help you when you hire them. With an agency, it’s no different. If you don’t trust us, we can’t help you. Thus, we’re not a good match. It’s best to find someone else.

2. It’s your agency’s job to make you look good. Plain and simple. We’re dressing you in the finest clothes and teaching you dinner etiquette. If you look foolish, unattractive or offensive, we have failed horribly. We’re not snake oil peddlers here to part you from your cash. We deliver creative work that—get this—actually grows your reputation and your business. And so, when we push back about something, it’s because we feel strongly that it’s the right way to go.

3. Have a goal. Let me explain this a bit. A company wandering aimlessly, randomly throwing money at print ads and product videos—simply because it’s what everyone else does—is missing the point. Before you spend a dollar on creative, answer the questions: What do you want to accomplish? What do you want people to know, feel and do when they encounter your brand?

Every single piece of marketing communication is something that tells your brand's story. 

If you think you're in need of trusted agency help, let's meet up. It might be the best call you make all year.