You may have had that initial spark, but like all relationships, the chemistry can begin to fade if you don't put in the work. Retaining a client can be even more difficult than winning a new account: Every email, every interaction, and every look will be scrutinized by an unhappy and unsatisfied client. And every email, interaction, and look can be the spark that leads to mistrust and dissatisfaction.

You need a way to periodically review the happiness of your clients and an approach to relationship building and maintenance. 

We asked a few agency executives for advice on how to retain clients and build long-lasting relationships. Here's what they had to say:

Show them you care. Call them. Go pay a visit. Send an email. Acknowledge them in a tweet. Write them a thank-you note every once in a while. This business, like most others, is about relationships. No great relationship I know of was founded on poor communication; in fact, relationships need great communication to thrive. Many of our clients are long-term clients because we actually care about the success of their business and about their personal success, but even if we cared more than anyone else, those clients would still question the relationship if we didn’t communicate well. 

- Joe Saracino | Erwin Penland

Identify and solve marketing challenges; don’t just fulfill requests. Sounds simple, but it really isn’t. Today, downsized client marketing departments and stretched client teams often mean there’s less time for face-to-face meetings. Technology has saved the day (sort of) as client and agency consistently communicate via email and text to manage a never ending flurry of job requests and assignments. When these conditions exist, client and agency teams alike can find themselves focused on the short-term flow of work, running the risk of become an order-taker versus a valued strategic partner and creative problem solver. 

- Kevin Meany | BFG

It’s not all about you.

So many times agencies forget their senior clients have many other responsibilities outside of advertising and branding. We’ve all heard about the changing role of the CMO. When this happens, agency partners can come across like a needy girlfriend or boyfriend who wants to dominate their time and attention. Well, if you’ve ever been in a relationship like this, you know it can be exhausting because it feels very one-sided. The truth is, if you really know your client’s business -- their category, their customers and prospects, their competitive environment, and their culture -- you can be much more efficient with their time. Being well-versed in your client’s business leads to richer, more insightful, and more meaningful conversations. In fact, less time will probably lead to more time because you’ll be that special someone they can’t get enough of. 

- Chris Witherspoon | DNA

Be honest and genuine. The marketing world doesn’t need any more full-of-shit account people. As marketers, there will be good news, bad news, and great news on any piece of business. Clients want agency partners who tell them the truth and leverage wins and losses as learnings to push things forward, especially when it comes to analytics. I think avoiding vanity metrics and showcasing the results that drive brands forward is something I’d encourage more agencies to lead with. Data is the currency of the future. Leverage it to tell stories, and learn from it.

- Pete Sena | Digital Surgeons

Show a true commitment to their business objectives and strategy. Have an open relationship with the top management to talk about their business opportunities, not just with CMO and his or her team. Don’t sell ads, sell cooperation. Solve problems by addressing real KPIs, not just brand awareness. Do the work together with the client, become part of their team, and ask the client to be part of your team. Become better together. Make their fight your fight. Create great work that makes them heroes, and they will never look at other agencies. 

- Eka Ruola | hasan & partners

Establish an open and honest relationship and keep communications channels OPEN! 

Clear communication and understanding is the only way to monitor and improve performance. Ideally, that is a two-way street. It’s like any good relationship -- know and understand your partner fully. Ambiguity equals death.

- Patrick Scullin | Ames Scullin O’Haire

Keep their external and internal challenges at heart. Sometimes agencies look too much to what kind of footprint a project will make in the agency fish pond. That is not the way to retain clients. Initiate reviews with the client to make sure that you deliver beyond expectations. 

- Ann Ystén | Perfect Fools

Complacency is the enemy of long-term relationships. In many ways, you need to treat your relationship with your clients like a marriage. Don’t take them for granted. Never let it get stale. Keep the passion at a high level. Adapt with the times and ever-changing needs of your partner. If your clients feel your love and excitement for their brand, there’s much less of a chance for them to have a wandering eye. 

- Scott Foreman | Publicis Seattle


Originally published Sep 1, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017


Communication with Clients