Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 30, 2009

Client Management - The answer is, "maybe"

Successfully managing client relationships, especially in these pressured times, takes the combined efforts of skilled interactive agency professionals. More PM's have lost more hair (or at least their coloring to gray) hearing phrases like, "XYZ Account person told the client that, we could do "it" and still meet the schedule. S/He made no mention of a potential fee increases."

I have toiled, presented, implored, cajoled, collaborated and otherwise tried to influence agency Account people not to play the game of, "Client says, 'jump', we say, 'how high'?" or to look at the advice/insult another way, to stop being "yes-(wo)men" (I can assure any offended Account people that this is a mild characterization compared to those bandied about an agency - especially in the wee hours of the morning.) Among the many benefits of removing the instant, "yes" are that it would take some pressure off of the PM's, who invariable are vilified when they assess the situation and have to say, "no".

The aim is to migrate towards more of aconsultative answer of, "maybe". Ideally, towards an Account Management-response along the lines of, "Client, I understand the request, let me talk to superwoman-PM back at the office, see how we can address this. I will get back to you ASAP with a recommendation and let you know if there are any impacts to the project's scope, timing or pricing." This is not a bait and switch. It actually gives the agency some time to thoughtfully address the request and be fairly compensated if there is a legitimate change in scope.

When discussing this issue with a wise agency president, he suggested that one way to facilitate the migration of yes-(wo)men on the Account team to the maybe column was to also move the PM's to the maybe column. He posited that one reason PM's are often met with resistance or, worse avoidance, is that in their zeal to defend, PM's can become very problem-oriented vs being solution-oriented - effectively turning themselves into "no-(wo)men". If PM's reflexive response was also, "maybe, let's see what we can come up with", the partnership would benefit, friction diminished, and the ecosystem would be better aligned for success.


  1. Hi there, first of all congratulations for all the extremely useful insights that you publish on your blog. I work as a project manager in a creative agency and understand better than anyone the problem of yes-(wo)men, this "jump, how high" situation is one of the main reasons that, most of the times, create high stress and conflicts in the agency - especially with the creatives, whose productivity diminishes with work overload imposed on them. Is there any kind of advice that you can give me, since I'm the only project manager, and have to deal simultaneously with accounts, whose main objective is satisfying the client no matter what, and creatives, who are always skipping deadlines?

    (sorry for any mispelled/written words, I'm from Portugal)

  2. Thank you for reading and for your comments. A couple of thoughts:

    It is laudable that your agency is wise enough to have a PM on staff, but no single PM is going to be able to manage the service delivery process for an entire agency (unless it's really tiny). The typical ration I have seen/deployed in interactive agencies is about 15% of all billable staff are PM's.

    Given that you're on your own, it is very important for there to be a pretty standard service-delivery process in place that helps teams and clients understand the order of operations. It doesn't have to be rigid, but needs to provide enough details so that everyone is aligned in their objectives and expectations about what happens when, and importantly, who is the responsible for what activities and deliverables.

    Finally, establishing overt accountability is important. This will most likely need to come from the executives in the company. It sounds like the account team is trying to please the client and the creative team is trying to do the best possible work - both necessary things, but a shared accountability for those team members, especially the department heads for on-time delivery and profitability will go a long way to helping adherence to the best practices that a PM supports by managing the service delivery process.

    Good luck. If you would like to discuss directly, please contact me at