Thinking past the client ask

If you always
give clients what
they ask for,
you will
get fired

Clients are clients for a reason, and they hire agencies for a reason. And while clients might think they know what they want, it’s our responsibility as their agencies to look past what they ask for and figure out what they really need.

As part of a creative team, I usually get direction to open or revise a job from our account people, who have distilled the instruction down to us from the client.

But as writers, designers and content strategists, we bring another way of thinking to the table. And to really deliver on our promise to give the client’s brand our very best, each team member has a responsibility — regardless of title — to stop, question and, if need be, debate the client’s instruction.

Is it really the right solution
for meeting the objective?

Beyond the ask, what’s the best strategy


Tarah Sperando
Tarah Sperando

When we give our clients exactly what they ask for, we keep relationships smooth and might even meet their needs — for awhile. But eventually a competitor will do something that makes our client ask: Why didn’t my agency come up with that?
And the answer will be: Why not, indeed?
It takes a certain amount of trust for a client to allow an agency to be a true business partner. To say, “We want more sales, more views, more loyalty” instead of, “We want banner ads.”
But clients who don’t trust their agencies to share in the big thinking are seriously short-changing themselves. And clients whose agencies are unwilling to share in the big thinking need to look for new ones.
Uncovering a client’s real objection to something can be just as important as determining the real objective. Sometimes I get copy feedback that’s purely prescriptive, which is both unhelpful and makes my writing sound like crap.
That’s when I stop and wonder: What was the real problem? Was the message inaccurate? Did we change strategic direction? Did you just not like the wording?
Once the true objection is understood, there’s almost always a better solution than the one that was hastily scrambled together and proposed on the spot.
Questioning the client ask isn’t always easy, certainly not as easy as it is for a writer to suggest it from her ivory-towered office. But integrity is what keeps good agencies succeeding year after year.
We embrace strategy as much as we do challenge. We know we could check a box and go home, but we also know that truly fulfilling our clients’ objectives, instead of just giving them what they ask for, is worth the effort, worth the fight, and the defining characteristic that sets good agencies apart from the rest.

About the author
Tarah Sperando is a Content Strategist, Copy Supervisor at AbelsonTaylor and a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.

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