Clients care far more about their careers than they do about their brand

Those aren’t my words. They belong to Robb High, a highly successful industry consultant.

Robb made that provocative statement in answering the question: What goes on when clients discuss which agency to select?

Check out his video. It’s worth watching.

High believes prospective clients aren’t interested in the big idea when evaluating prospective agency partners. Rather, he says, they seek consensus. So, while they may ask you to present “game-changing” ideas, what the client really wants is an agency that all of the decision-makers can live with. High says new business pitches are, in reality, job interviews.

Consensus is key because, says High, clients are more concerned with their careers than they are about their brands. As a result, they won’t select any agency that presents an idea that might undermine the work being done by one or more of the client decision-makers.

When clients meet to discuss and select a winner, one will inevitably say, “I can live with any agency except BottomFeeder. There’s no way they can do my job better than me.” As a result, the client will select the “safest” agency.

I agree and disagree with High. Sure, we’ve lost pitches to other agencies and, in the post mortem, were told we were either “Too strategic,” “Too edgy” or “Too far ahead in what can be accomplished in the near future.” Translated into English, the prospect’s told us we either alienated, or scared, one of the key decision-makers in the room.

At the same time, though, we’ve won big accounts by being edgy and presenting a big idea.

Prospects are like snowflakes. No two are alike. High’s right in saying many will choose an agency that won’t rock the boat or put their jobs in jeopardy. But, there are just as many forward-looking CCO’s and CMO’s who are willing to take risks and do want a game-changing idea.

The challenge lies in knowing beforehand whether the prospect is risk-friendly or risk-averse. And, alas, that, too, is a guessing game since many prospects say one thing when they really mean the exact opposite. And so it goes.

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