Defection to advocate. Where are your clients?


Most agency heads pride themselves of being close their clients and knowing whether they are happy with the service they are receiving. Not that happy is an objective measurement of a campaign’s success.  Without a structured and objective process is really hard to know how satisfied our clients are.

Taking time to consider where your clients are on the defection to loyalty scale is a great start.

The first step is developing criteria to allow you to assess whether the client relationship is:

  1. Defection – close to the end of the commercial relationship
  2. Transaction – operational but not secure
  3. Partnership – solid but not yet strategic
  4. Advocate – mutual strategic benefit with real personal relationships (loyalty).

These criteria can be used to map the client portfolio on a grid that shows where the client relationship is but also cross reference it with the range of agency services that are being purchased by the client.  And yes, you guessed it, those client relationships sitting in defection and transaction are nine times out of ten those that are buying the smallest range of agency services. So you need to look at your client loyalty programme as part of your new business plan.


What are the symptoms of an unhealthy client relationship? For those clients in the defection and transaction boxes you will see unusual pressure on prices; heavy involvement of procurement; the need to competitively tender for new projects and short term visibility of your fees. Not much long term planning is going on. All combined with little access to senior management, either marketing or operational.

As you move the relationship to partnership and loyalty you should start see fee levels stabilise; a heads up from the client on how best to handle the procurement guys; additional revenue opportunities without the need for a formal pitch and revenue visibility extends. Once you have the client’s confidence access to senior management and the longer term plans for the client business often follow.


The initial mapping exercise will often see a clustering of clients in certain relationship types. This can be a reflection of the sector you are operating in; the operating style of that particular account director or director or a reflection of the culture of the agency as a whole.

Having done the mapping exercise the next step is to work out which clients you want to move up the value chain towards partnership and loyalty; which ones you are happy to leave in defection and which ones (if not all) of those in loyalty box you want to protect.


So now you know what your priorities are, it is wise to get an understanding of how the account teams see the relationship and what the areas of strengths and weakness are. This can be done simply by using a spider diagram with the five or six key criteria you wish to measure the relationship against. These can include understanding of client business; project management; return on investment and insight generation. Of course, you would want to include the client’s understanding of, and interest in, your agency proposition.

A face to face meeting with the client is the best way to understand where the client relationship is.  This can be done by a director not on the account or an outside consultant. The account team’s views and the client’s feedback are then compared and an appropriate plan drawn up.

I’d recommend repeating the process every six months with an informal chat to track progress every three months.

Once you have a client loyalty process in place you can be confident that you really know what the state of your relationships are and so the reliability of your fee forecasts.  While some the feedback may not be welcome it is always valuable and should be acted on if you see your agency as a partner rather than a supplier.