I’ve spent all 23 years of my advertising career in agencies.
I’ve never had an “in-house” SEO job.
I think working in an advertising agency – particularly in an agency that is great at search – is the best job in the world.
I’ve worked with clients of all types and sizes, all over the world – including Fortune 10 companies as well as one-man businesses looking for leads.
Believe it or not, even with all that experience, I’m still constantly surprised by new scenarios in the agency/client relationship.
That being said, there are things most folks who haven’t spent time in an agency wouldn’t think about in the day-to-day that goes on between agency and client.
I’m about to shed light on a few of those things.
Being A Punching Bag Is Part Of The Job
Television shows like Mad Men have made the advertising industry seem glamorous.
The image of the shiny, modern glass building on Madison Avenue has lured many young hopefuls into learning about account management, traffic, media buying, and even search.
But there is a dark side to the agency world.
I answered client questions on my honeymoon.
I’ve been fired for the results of campaigns that I never even touched.
When my phone rings, no matter where I am I look at the caller ID – and if it’s a client I won’t ever relax until I call them back.
If you work in an agency, your time ceases to be your own.
The proverbial “bovine waste” tends to roll downhill when you work at an agency, and unfortunately, you’re at the bottom of the hill.
I’ve been told that life in an agency isn’t for the old and weak.
I may be approaching the former, but I’m still far from the latter.
The biggest mistake I see clients make with an agency is coming in the door with a big bluster and immediately ordering agency personnel around.
It’s typically not quite at forward as the stereotype of the yelling client.
It’s more subtle, with lots of passive-aggressive tones and mentions of how the last agency was fired.
But don’t be fooled – the agency personnel is judging you in the first meeting as much as you are judging them – and later in the column, we’ll talk about why that’s important.
Nice Clients Finish First
Anyone who has ever been in the agency when assignments are made will attest to the “underground lobbying” that goes into what team gets a particular client.
Clients that are interesting will be very popular with agency staff at first – at least until the people involved in the account truly reveal themselves.
Once a client is established in the agency, trust me, the account people know which clients are great to work with, and which ones might bite their heads off for taking a 30-minute lunch break instead of eating a sad sandwich at your desk.
Trust me, you want account personnel who want to work on your account.
If you are nice, you will have the best account people lobbying to work on your account.
This is a really big deal if you work with a larger agency.
Larger agencies are great and have some of the best people, but they also have some of the worst account people.
The team you work with can be directly related to how well you treat the staff you initially interact with.
I’m not saying you can’t hold your agency accountable – in fact, quite the opposite.
Your agency wants you to tell them how they are doing in your eyes – trust me, it’s not always obvious.
Over the years, I’ve been fired from an agency more times than I can count when I didn’t see the problem coming because the client never told me about it.
No, accountability is rarely ever the problem.
Communicate and be nice.
You’ll be surprised how much those two things will affect your results.
Squeaky Wheel Gets The Work
We’ve already established that nice clients tend to get better work than clients who are mean.
But being nice doesn’t mean being quiet.
Even when working with an agency that employs rigid discipline and defined processes, a silent client can be forgotten.
Every week I go through each client with my team.
The first thing I look at is if a client’s hours are all being used efficiently.
Even though our firm has more than 15 years of established processes and practices, I still see times when quiet clients don’t get all the time they deserve.
It’s not because the work was done – the work is never done.
It’s not because they weren’t nice – right now all of my clients are nice!
It’s because these clients didn’t want a regular check-in call.
It’s because these clients never give feedback on their reports.
We assume, in many cases correctly, that a quiet client is a happy client.
But we’d rather have a client that gives us feedback.
And yes, clients that communicate get better service.
Especially when they are nice.
Clients Typically Judge The Wrong Results
I get concerned when an inexperienced client starts digging through analytics.
It can be quite stressful and comical at the same time.
I encourage this behavior at the beginning of an engagement before we’ve done work.
That way, when the client becomes livid about results they don’t truly understand, they are mad at their last agency, not me.
Just kidding – kind of.
I will say that an educated client is typically better than an uneducated one.
But even educated clients tend to fixate on the wrong things.
I’m not saying we in the agency world are perfect.
Far from it.
But we do have the privilege of seeing how a lot of websites work.
We get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly (if I could only unsee some of the sites I’ve seen).
When you judge months of SEO work by the fluctuating rankings of one keyword – even if it’s an important keyword – show me that you don’t get what we’re trying to do.
And I can guarantee you that if you are a client of mine, intellectually you know that chasing single keyword rankings is a waste of time in most cases.
But even though my clients know this, I see the excitement in their eyes when that keyword jumps in the rankings and I know I’m more likely to get fired when the keyword drops.
Even if traffic from search has skyrocketed and resulted in an unbelievable return on investment.
Frankly, as an agency what we want to be judged on is how well we help you achieve goals that we set throughout our relationship.
If you aren’t setting goals with your agency, you will never truly know if they are doing a good job.
So set the goals and let the agency do the work.
If the agency is as good as you thought they were when you hired them, you’ll reach your goals.
If they aren’t, be nice but find a new agency.
At the end of the day, it is about which agency you work with best.
And as long as you reach those goals, the relationships can look very different from client to client.
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