David Baker: “Clients Care More About How the Work is Managed and Delivered Than the Work Itself”

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In an article published recently in his firm’s newsletter, David Baker, Principal of ReCourses, Inc., a management consulting firm that works exclusively with public relations, advertising, and design firms, makes the rather startling claim that “your clients care more about how the work is managed and delivered than the work itself.”

At first, that notion may seem preposterous to many of us agency folks, especially those of us who toil away in the creative department day in and day out. After all, why would our clients care how we get it done, as long we get it done well?

However, having had the opportunity to have met David before and to have been on the receiving end of his professional advice, I’m inclined to defer to his experience and expertise on the matter (especially after reading his thesis below)…

What Staffing Decisions Have the Greatest Impact on Clients?
By David Baker, Principal, ReCourses

Your clients care more about how the work is managed and delivered than the work itself.

Many of you are going to disagree with that statement, and I’m fine with that, but I wanted to put it in a separate paragraph just to be very clear about what I’ve noticed when listening to hundreds of your clients over the years. Yes, I can’t count how many times they’ve told me that they place great value on an agency that “gets it” in their ability to listen, push the envelope appropriately, and consistently hit home runs out of the park. But the work itself just needs to be good enough (that is not a negative in spite of the way it sounds), while the management and delivery of that work needs to be remarkable.

Here are some of the forces that are working against that premise.

1) First, your employees care about the work they do. So much, in fact, that they find it very difficult to apply a measured effort to each project, instead lavishing great amounts of attention on everything, whether the client is paying for it or not. Their work is informed by their own very high standard rather than what the client would find acceptable. If any particular client isn’t willing to pay for what the employee wants to do, the actual target becomes “the book” or the “body of work” that will be used to snag deserving clients later. This is a good problem to have, but it can be difficult to make money in this environment, and those who are managing and delivering the work will have a real challenge in hitting budgets and deadlines.

2) Second, your industry doesn’t give out awards for great traffic or great account service. They should, but they don’t. Nearly every award is centered around the admiration of peers instead of the admiration of clients.

3) Third, hardly anybody starts a firm like yours as an expert in traffic, production management, or account service. Instead, you started as an expert technician in something, whether public relations, advertising, design, account planning, copywriting, media planning, or whatever. So from the very beginning you set out to sell THAT. This thing you did was the core competency and all the rest was fluff. Chances are you didn’t even feel comfortable charging (or charging enough) for the services that were wrapped around that core competency, and perhaps you even hid them in estimates and invoices.

Sometimes the people who allow you to do great work need a lot more attention than the people who do the work that you sell. These folks are the offensive line who allow the quarterback and running back to move the ball down the field. It’s a thankless job to help other people succeed, but a great offensive line can make even a mediocre quarterback look pretty good. Yet a great quarterback is nothing without a strong offensive line.

You know what else? Nearly every mistake you’ll make in structuring roles at your firm will relate in some way to how you handle the coordinating of the work you do and the interfacing between the firm and your client. These employees are the core of what clients value and notice.

Your clients care more about how the work is managed and delivered than the work itself. Do your staffing decisions take this into account?

Recourses offers a free email subscription service that provides its constituents with business advice on managing a small communications firm. To learn more about David Baker and Recourses, and to sign up for this free service, click here.

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3 Responses to David Baker: “Clients Care More About How the Work is Managed and Delivered Than the Work Itself”

  1. Jeff Kopito says:

    I work in the pharmaceutical advertising industry on the vendor side. We work
    with agencies – and the clients themselves – to help them develop specialty
    promotional programs – ie patient starter kits, detail aids for reps, direct
    mailers with popups and interactive mechanisms, etc. We basically do structural
    design and they drop in their graphics.

    Although it’s important the piece works graphically and structurally, I’ve
    always told the people in my company that we don’t sell design, or boxes, or
    popups etc.

    We sell service. That’s our product.

    Anyone can make a box. Not everyone can manage the program and deliver to the
    client’s all around satisfaction. You can have the greatest design in the world
    – but deliver it late or otherwise frustrate the client along the way, that’s
    what they will remember.

    “Managing” the client is as important is designing the perfect piece.

    Just a random thought.

  2. I agree: Most clients care more about how the work is managed than the work they actually get. That’s why the vast majority of marketing is mediocre at best.

  3. The mechanical aspect of getting a promo or ad campaign in action should not be overlooked. It requires working against deadlines with a range of suppliers. Brilliant but unreliable work is more of a headache than anything else, particularly as people on the client side are sometimes holding down two or three functions at the same time. They just down’t have time to babysit issues.

    I first noticed this when I was being called to agencies and they weren’t taking the time to check my portfolio. They didn’t have that time, as their clients were breathing down their neck and making almost impossible demands in terms of deadlines. As there was a downturn in business, the account managers were saying “yes” to everything and then trying to patch a solution together.

    The challenge for us as suppliers, of course, is to try and maintain quality standards and consistency even in commodity “get-it-out-quick” situations. And always maintain a mentality that finds solutions rather than hitting walls. These could come from ways of cutting down approval time to enlisting colleagues for a hand over weekends.

    Just remember to let your client know what it entails (nicely)! We wouldn’t like them to take it for granted!