The Client’s Always Right…Except When They Aren’t

Darlene Dobry Med Mktg Blog Image EDIn a service industry, many of us live and die by the mantra, “The client’s always right.” We have long understood and served our role as agency partners and know that we need to passionately support our clients’ efforts.

But is it acceptable to challenge the clients’ wisdom and tell them from time to time that the path they want to take will not result in the best outcomes? That they should take greater risks and push themselves and their brands to greater heights? That they should not accept mediocre results when they can achieve greatness? That they should stop doing what the others are doing and break away from the pack?

Absolutely—this is our job, this is what true client partners should want and expect. We cannot simply nod our heads in approval if we truly care about our clients and the brands we support. We need to tell the truth―backed up with data, customer insights and market knowledge—and state it with conviction. When it’s out, the client will ultimately determine which direction to proceed, but they will do it knowing the potential “watch outs” or barriers to its success, and we can then work together to be armed with the ultimate plan.

It has been my experience that clients do appreciate partners who show passion, conviction and a commitment to doing what they believe is right. Most are not looking for order-takers or yes-men (and if they are, you may want to consider working with a new client).

In my office, I have a sign that says, “I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.” It’s not there to remind me that I’m always right—it’s a daily reminder to stand up for the brand and what you believe…always, even if it’s not necessarily popular. Of course, it’s critical to be able to back it up and deliver with diplomacy, grace and experience. In the end, the client drives the ultimate decision, and as their partner, we align, support them and drive to deliver the very best.

My best client relationships have been based on trust, truth and transparency, and respecting that it works both ways. There is immense power, transformative ideas and inspired problem solving that come from collective diverse thinking and challenging the status quo. Remember, in the words of David Ogilvy, “We only get a spark when the stone and flint are moving in opposite directions.”

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