The most important meeting an agency has with a new client is the agency-client expectations meeting.
If, during that meeting, the agency team and client team aren’t as upfront and transparent as humanly possible about their expectations for each other, then expect any honeymoon period to be short-lived and divorce to follow. If, during that meeting, the two sides cannot hammer out agreement on what success looks like, run, don’t walk, away.
Running away from a new client is difficult to do for agency veterans. Even when we know in our hearts it’s the absolute right thing to do from past experience, we still all too often hold out hope and err on the side of “Well, maybe it will be different this time.” It’s rarely, if ever, different.
Throwing good money after bad is almost always a losing proposition. The temptation is always to try to justify and preserve the time, money, blood, sweat and tears an agency may have poured into the client acquisition process. Heck, we’re not going to throw away all that hard work just because our expectations don’t jive with the client’s, right? Wrong. Moving forward when the two sides are worlds apart benefits no one.
An expectations meeting should occur shortly after the client has officially awarded the business to an agency, within the first couple of weeks of the new relationship. During the courtship, before anyone’s John Hancock has landed on a letter of agreement, everyone is an angel and on his or her best behavior. The agency wants the new business because the client is in a hot space and it would be so cool to work with these guys. The client wants your agency as their partner because your team has relevant experience, knows the market, has a great rep and the right influencer relationships in place. The agency and client say "I Do" and its off to the races, but all to often minus a comprehensive expectations meeting.
Two months in, things aren’t going so well, unbeknownst to the agency. The excitement of the new engagement has waned, but we’re building a foundation for sustainable storytelling and everyone knows public relations is about the campaign and not the event. Well, maybe not everyone does knows that. Maybe your new client spells success with feature coverage in TechCrunch
and their hometown newspaper in the first six weeks of the engagement, but you never bothered to ask, nor did the client volunteer this information when it awarded you the business.
This disappointing scenario is largely avoided when the agency insists on holding an expectations meeting in the early goings.
An expectations meeting with a new client is different from a discussion of the client’s business goals. For example, the CEO may have the expectation that he/she is going to be actively involved in business press activities. Does the client view media coverage as the most important outcome of the program, or is generating website traffic via inbound marketing more critical? Setting clear expectations for how the communications program is going to run, and what each person’s role and responsibility is, is key in a new relationship.
In addition to being on the same page on what success looks like, expectation meetings are also ideal platforms for the client and the agency to agree a day-to-day work structure:
∙ How will the client and agency account team members communicate on a day-to-day basis
∙ Which communications tools will be regarded as essential to real-time communications
∙ The schedule for formal weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual meetings to review progress
During an expectations meeting, it’s imperative that client and agency are honest, don’t overpromise, agree to revisit the expectations from time-to-time, keep promises, and apologize when they are broken.
What would you add to the list? If you’re on the client side, have you had successful, long-term agency engagements without revisiting expectations on a regular basis?
Jim Barbagallo is principal and CEO at integrated communications agency Pilot Communications Group. A version of this story originally appeared on the agency's blog.