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Contrary to What You May Think: You Do Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

New York, USA
Mike Donahue on why you should treat clients like prospects… everyday

Mike Donahue is a former EVP of the 4As, senior director of the ANA and CEO of Connect the Dots, a management consultancy. He will be appearing on an upcoming episode of “What Next?”, the podcast series hosted by Rishad Tobaccowala.

AI and ChatGPT, Crypto, NFTs…these are just a few of the latest technologies and applications that have captured our industry’s attention.

It’s tempting to want to chase down every shiny new toy. 

But in our eagerness to embrace the new and demonstrate to clients (and ourselves) how up-to-date and knowledgeable we are about the latest creative innovations, are we losing sight of the most fundamental reason why clients choose us to be their business partners? 

The goal of advertising, and by extension, agency partners, is to grow our client’s businesses. But like football, if you don’t block and tackle, or education, if you don’t know your 'a,b,c’s,' if we don’t first and foremost deliver the basics, we are doing them a disservice.  

In other words, client service.  

We need to bring the same level of passion and enthusiasm we showed them the very first day they walked through the door…everyday.

We need to treat our clients like they are prospects. 

This is especially true for existing clients.

I am worried that in our pursuit of every shiny new invention, we are losing sight of this fundamental tenet. And with the start of the new year, this seems like an appropriate time to re-embrace and be reminded that yes, you do have a second chance to make a first impression.

What follows are five tips on how to re-apply your new business mojo to ongoing businesses. It isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense. All designed to resist the temptation to stop charging, or to become complacent, comfortable, conventional or, worst of all…cosy.

1. Give your clients what they need, even if it’s not what they want. Doing this means you’ve got to be willing to be unpopular. One of the best compliments I ever received came from a tough client who said, “Donahue, you always tell me what I DON’T want to hear.” They remained a client for over 10 years.

2. Do not keep your feet planted firmly on the fence. For whatever reasons, we sometimes too easily slip into being wishy-washy in running our day-to-day businesses. Sure it feels risky to take stands day in and day out, but I think it’s a lot riskier NOT to.

3. Break out of the confines of the comfortable. If your ideas don’t make you squirm a little, then they’re probably not ambitious enough.

4. Don’t accept conventional wisdom. Look, when you’re pitching new prospects, you know they want fresh, new thinking that challenges the norm and their ideas about their business. They have heard too many conventional wisdoms.  Why should you treat your current clients any differently than you treat new prospects?

5. Don’t be boring. Nothing makes a new business prospect’s eyes glaze over faster than a dull presentation…so why should we expect an ongoing client to react any differently? Resist the temptation to be TORPID rather than TORRID. Deliver every client recommendation with the same passion of a new business pitch. Don’t just lay it out. Lay it on. Be willing to take risks and to get in trouble. Because if you don’t, you will get in trouble.   

There you have it.

Five easy common sense suggestions that you can turn into common practices and ensure that you never lose sight of the fundamental value we bring to our clients: treating their business like it’s our business; treating them like they are a new business prospect; treating everyday as a chance to make a good first impression.

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