Advice For Clients

I’m a big fan of Steve McKee’s articles in BusinessWeek, but I often wonder if anyone takes his advice to heart. His new one is called “Get the Most Out of Your Ad Agency” and it’s full of tips for small business owners who work with agencies. Here’s one tip:

Value risk. For advertising to be attention-getting, it has to be different. And anything different is risky. In every other avenue of your business you know reward is associated with some level of measured risk. If you want advertising that looks like your competitors’, you don’t even need an ad agency. But if you want to lead the category, you’re going to have to do something that, at least from the outside, appears risky.
Good agencies aren’t reckless. They have a sense of what risks are appropriate and how to mitigate them. But they can only do it for clients who value the benefits of a little calculated risk-taking. Of course, the risks you and your agency take won’t pay off every time. If your agency knows as long as it’s acting in your best interests it’s O.K. to make a mistake, it will treat the responsibility you give it with great care.
Keep your eye on the big picture, not the small print. Some ads will be better than others, and others may downright flop. But if your focus remains on the overall trajectory of your brand you’ll learn that for every “one step back” there will be two or three steps forward. If your agency knows you’re committed to it and you’re in this together, it’ll do anything to make those risks pay off.

So how do clients approach their ad agencies when they first start working together? Do small business owners think dynamically about their advertising? Would any client really take advice on how to work with an ad agency from an ad agency owner? Can a client who doesn’t treat his/her agency well change habits?

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. The sad truth is 99.9% of all marketing teams on the client side– big, medium or small–are not set up to value risk. And when we’re seen as vendors that can be easily replaced instead of partners in it for the long haul, even a bold client interested in taking these calculated risks pauses to consider who and what to trust.
    So I love the message and believe in it wholly. But I also know it’s a lot to ask.

  2. “Risk” is such a bad word. Many clients might think ‘risk’ is doing something daring, bold, breakthrough.
    The truth is, the bigger risk is not to.