From agency to client and back again - what I learned from a change of perspective

What clients want from an agency can be summed up in two words: empathy and expertise.  

They want an open, ongoing conversation with someone outside of their own organisation’s culture and politics who has both shared values and vision for what the future could look like. They want a partner who listens, who understands their aims and challenges, and has the expertise to translate that into a plan that achieves their objectives.

So that’s what I try to deliver as part of the Client Services team at Great State. And how can I be certain that’s what clients want? Because I spent the past two years as one.

Life on both sides

Before the pandemic, I’d worked agency-side for 8 years. But when COVID hit, I had time to reflect and think about what I actually wanted to do. I’d reached the stage where I was making a meaningful impact for the clients I worked for, but I didn’t necessarily want to keep working for companies that didn’t match up with my wider world view.

I’m a big advocate for higher education; it certainly did me a lot of good, and I ended up as vice-president of the Students’ Union, campaigning against fee increases. So when COVID happened, I went over to the client side, to fulfil another side of me, one that wasn't just to do with making money.

I took a job at a higher education Institution, helping them to acquire, retain and build long term relationships with students. I really enjoyed the role, but I wanted to make more of an impact, and felt I could do this by working with multiple organisations, so after two years I felt it was time to go back into the agency environment.

I like the vibrancy and the ability to get stuff done at pace and with a clear strategy in mind. But I took with me all the experience from my client-side role around how clients think, how they make decisions, and why things happen the way they do.

Put empathy in the driving seat

The most important thing I learned is that agencies need to understand and empathise with their clients. When you work client-side, you realise how larger organisations have a mind of their own, often with competing agendas and priorities, and you want your agency to realise that too. You want them to support you; you want them to help steer your team in the right direction, providing support and guidance with the benefit of an outside perspective.

The other thing agencies need to understand is that clients often don’t know what they want. They go to agencies because they don’t have the answers themselves, because they need ideas and expertise that they don’t have in their own organisation.

Clients value long-term relationships. That doesn’t mean they’ll always be pushing high-value projects your way, but if they understand what you offer and the value you bring, you’ll always be front of mind when they have a challenge that matches your skillset. It’s important to mention that it isn’t a transactional relationship, we’re in a partnership with our clients and we’re always talking and developing an understanding of how we can help with the challenges they’re facing.

Set clear expectations

Of course, agencies don’t have all the answers either. There will be things that aren’t in your wheelhouse, and most clients understand that. As a client, I’ve seen people who work with one agency, trying to get them to be something else. They’re not sure what other agencies are out there so they just ask the one they know to help. Some agencies made the mistake of taking on that sort of work, because they see the potential revenue, but ultimately, they’re not really helping themselves or their client.

So now, working Client Services rather than client-side, I see we’re there to support and guide our clients and give them the expertise, the empathy, and the direction to help their businesses move forward. And if we do that in the right way, with values and vision aligned, our clients can leave the rest to us. They can sit back and watch their organisation prosper.

If you'd like to learn more about Client Services at Great State, or the work we do within higher education, get in contact, I'd love to talk to you.

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