I’m sorry but… it’s just f***ing rude

Andrew Wiseman looks at how to create better, long-term client-agency relationships.

I’ve thought about writing a blog like this for a long time, and at the same time never thought I’d write a blog that screamed its headline like a Daily Mail front page. But here we are!

I was recently viewing a LinkedIn post about being ghosted. Not in the traditional way like after an unsuccessful first date, but in the context of proposing and pitching for work. From reading the comments on the post, and just through conversation within the industry, it appears this is happening more often.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t aimed at those people who are bombarded by cold sales emails and calls. Occasionally, you get lucky with this type of activity, especially if you’re offering the gift of insight. Rather than focusing on unsolicited activity, I’m talking about solicited contact – when the client’s been in touch to express an interest in working with you.

Imagine the scenario: you get an email from your company’s ‘Contact Us’ form, maybe a direct approach through LinkedIn, or via a call into the office. The client says they have a brief and would you like to take a look. Almost always, the response will be positive.

Now, any good agency will then take the time to discuss your brief with you before putting pen to paper, and they’ll no doubt look at offering some market context – whether through a quick Google search, more thorough desk research or even paid-for research to inform the approach.

Next, you’ll craft your proposal. You’ll discuss the brief with some colleagues. You’ll talk to partners about sampling, and create what you hope will be a compelling ‘sell’ to your client. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to pitch this – to the main stakeholder, to a broader team, online or sometimes getting a day out of the office.

Additionally, especially in the broader marketing arena, you’ll also be invited to tissue meetings to test the chemistry and your ability to work together. Put all these stages together, and you might have spent several days of time and effort into submitting your ideas, and leaning on partners at a time cost to them too.

This all sounds great, right? But then. Nothing. A vacuum of silence. On some occasions, not even an acknowledgement, but what we’re seeing more often is a lack of engagement with follow up. ‘I’m just checking on our proposal and your internal conversation.’ Silence. ‘Just wondering if there was anything more you needed for your decision making process’. Nothing. And so on.

It’s worth mentioning at this point, that we as an agency, are not always blameless when it comes to the above. We’ll ask our partners for quotes on numerous projects, and we won’t always proactively let them know whether the project is going ahead or not. What we would always do however, is to respond to our partners if they got in touch asking for a quick update on progress.

As any agency knows, 100% conversion on proposals is an unattainable utopia. We’re not the research equivalent of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’. So why do clients find it so hard to let us down gently that they’d rather blank us instead? Of course, your unsuccessful agency will be disappointed with the news, but we understand the complexity of the choices you’re making. So just tell us! If you can, feedback on why you chose someone else, but the basic expectation for the days of work in preparing proposal and pitch documents should be an acknowledgement of, and thanks for, the effort put in. Similarly, if there’s a reason that the project doesn’t go ahead due to changing priorities, have the courtesy to have the conversation with the agencies who’ve submitted proposals. At the end of the day, we’re professionals and we won’t take it personally that you’ve chosen not to work with us on a given occasion.

There ends the rant. Let us all try and engage better with our clients and suppliers. Not only is it basic manners but we might end up with more productive working relationships, allowing us to make a bigger difference for both agency and client businesses.