The former believe that a little praise reaps big rewards in extra effort and commitment. The latter believe the relationship should be purely transactional - that the agency provides a service for which it is paid and sentiment has no part to play.
Having been agency-side for nearly 25 years, it will come as no surprise to hear that I strongly believe the emotional carrot carries a lot more weight than the financial stick. Human nature being what it is, most of us like to be liked. If we’re doing a great job we like receiving recognition for our efforts. We like to be praised.
Much as we stress our role as trusted, impartial, professional advisers, it’s the clients who show enthusiasm for a job well done who get most out of the agency relationship.
It’s simple psychology.
Creative, contributive people are often less secure than they care to admit. We’re in touch with our feelings. We thrive on strokes and reassurance. And we’re not alone. A well-known and scary corporate lawyer of my acquaintance recently volunteered that being appreciated pleases him more than banking the cheque (I was surprised, too!).
During my university years, I worked as a jobbing waitress. Customers who tipped well unfailingly got the best seats and the best service. This is a universal rule, as anyone who dispenses corporate largesse will testify.
So why do some clients seem resolutely determined to resist giving even a hint of praise even when they know you’ve done an exceptional job?
Some simply think that if they openly praise the positive impact your work is having on their business, you will put your fees up. Nonsense.
The other reason is more complex. It’s about mind games and power plays. A few years ago, we had a client representing a big corporate organisation.
We sensed from the outset that he would be a difficult and emotionally distant client but relished the challenge, secure in the knowledge of our own capabilities.
Every quarter, he would set us some pretty ambitious goals. Every quarter we exceeded them. Still, he found reason to criticise and complain.
Don’t think for one moment that we just rolled over at the first sign of criticism and scampered off to nurse our bruised fragile egos. Far from it. We’re a tenacious bunch of fiercely determined people at RMS who like nothing better than rising to a challenge.
Anyway, he kept raising the bar with no commensurate thanks or praise. It became demoralising. Eventually, those of us handling his account stopped trying to please and prove our worth. Worse still, we stopped caring and eventually started giving him just what he asked for and nothing more.
This blinkered client viewed us as the enemy – as suppliers trying to extract money from his business. He didn’t seem to understand that we were on the same side - that it’s in our commercial interests to do the best possible job and for relationships to last.
We eventually resigned the business. It was a profitable account but not worth the damage his attitude inflicted on our collective morale.
Without mutual respect and trust there is nowhere to go. He has since leapfrogged from PR agency to PR agency, complaining that each couldn’t match our standards of service.
So what’s the point of mentioning this sorry tale? Well, if you’re client-side take heed. When you ‘engage’ with your agency – when you trust them, when you share the success with them, when you praise them for a job well done – you will get your investment back in spades.
Squeeze every drop of blood out of your agency and there’ll be nothing left in the tank when you need them to burn the midnight oil or pull out all the stops on your behalf.
To quote Richard Branson:
“You’ve got to be extremely good at praising people. Never openly criticise people. Never lose your temper. Always lavish praise for a job well done.
“People flourish if they’re praised. Usually they don’t need to be told when they’ve done wrong because most of the time they know it.”
He’s right. Provided it’s not devalued by over-use or insincerity, praise is one of the strongest cards in a client's hand. Far from triggering a fee increase, judiciously used, praise will multiply the value of every pound you spend.
So, next time you speak with your agency don’t forget to tell them what a great job they’re doing... and if they aren’t, you could always give RMS a call.