Clients and Commercial awareness

 |  By: Steve Johnson

Commercial awareness: Agencies want their employees to have it, but what's less commonly considered, is that clients want their agencies to have it too.

Here's some recent evidence of what clients think of the subject. Below are statistics from What Clients Think 2021, a survey carried out by the UK agency survey company Up To The Light.

In summary, what does it say? A big conclusion can be drawn that clients don’t really want advertising, websites, digital initiatives, e-shots, branding or any of that at all. What they simply want is success for their business. Those deliverables are simply a way for them to get to achieve that.

So when you’re hiring someone into your agency, you could do worse than to explain this. Otherwise you might build a team of abstract thinkers who have little conception of why clients pay you in the first place. Clients are clearly growing a bit weary of agencies like that. They crave working with teams who grasp the commercial focus and see the bigger picture, understand customer pressures and actively look for ways to help the client succeed.


...of senior clients (i.e. managers) say that a budget can always be found for a great idea by their agency.

So, that's a great start. The door is open.

By the way, the survey also says that 70% of clients believe their agency could provide more added value in their communications. Further proof that they’re actively looking for ideas.


...things that clients wished agencies did more during Covid.

ONE. Come up with a great idea, unprompted.
TWO. Be the client’s eyes and ears, e.g. spotting trends, noticing competitor activity, and bringing knowledge gained from other brands.
THREE. Check in more. It doesn’t need to be a scheduled meeting.

They're openly inviting you to become more enterprising and think more commercially.


...of clients say that agencies spend too long talking about themselves in pitch presentations.
The top criticism of pitch presentations: ‘Too generic’. ‘Not enough homework on us’.
A top reason for losing a pitch: ‘They didn’t get it,’ e.g. they misunderstood the positioning or the market, and didn’t ask the right questions.

What’s really burning in the client’s mind is not the question of your credentials but whether you truly empathise with the hot issues that keep the client awake at night.

The number


...client expectation is for their agency to 'be a real ally'.
Number 2: For the agency to 'see the bigger picture'.

The implication is that they want someone who thinks like them, has their back and worries about the same things as they do.


...of pitches are lost because of softer factors over harder factors. Only a 20% - 30% weighting is given to creative concepts and the ability to answer the brief. The bulk is given to ‘softer’ things like:

Quality of the people | Understanding our brand |
Fit with our culture | Challenging us | Adding value

It's all about the client wanting their agency to share the same commercial focus as the client.

Let's see what agencies say about client service:

In the top


...of client expectations of agencies:
Be on time and on budget.

One test of whether a client-agency relationship is healthy is what happens when something goes wrong. Is the account manager scared of raising an issue to the client. Beware. Lack of disclosure makes the problem even bigger:

The number

1 client service issue:
Not flagging things up.

Is managing projects enough to satisfy clients? Not quite, according to what they said in the survey:

The number


...overall client service issue:
Agencies not driving things.

Here are some definitions to help clarify this point:
Managing means keeping track of everything, prioritising, solving problems and knowing what’s going on.
Driving means all of the above plus being personally committed to ensuring the project has a successful outcome no matter what hazards might show up along the way.
In the client’s mind, there’s a big difference between those two things.

And now for two nice big opportunities for agencies:


...of clients say that digital transformation is a major business priority for them.


...of clients say they are unable to give as much consideration to longer-term brand building
as they would like.

So there you have it. Clients need you. Not only that, but according to the survey they want you to act like a business partner rather than simply be a provider of services.

You can learn more about how to become this proactive partner that clients crave, whilst also getting more work for your agency in our article How to encourage your agency's teams to upsell more. It's not about the cold hard sell, it's about a value-led consultative approach. Our article gives you proven advice on how to approach this.