The key things clients are looking for from a new agency

The agency world is a competitive one. With ideas, innovation, skills and talents bursting out of each agency, how do you make yours stand out from the creative crowd?

Offering a deep dive into the collective minds of clients, the report What Clients Think 2023, from Up to the Light in association with the Design Business Association (DBA), shines a spotlight on just what clients are looking for from their creative agency.

Team members
Team members
Team members

Commercial results, critiques and challenges

While it’s tempting to show off all your agency’s creative skills, this might not be enough to impress a potential new client. But add in some commercial know-how, and it might tip the balance.

Clients want to know how their creative projects will translate into commercial success. So give them the facts and the stats, showing them tangible evidence of how your previous projects have driven commercial results.

Gentle critiquing and challenging is also welcomed by clients. Many are looking for agencies that don’t just toe the line and quietly follow a brief. Rather, offer up ideas for how things could be improved, how a different approach could work better.

Clients don’t just want to know what you can do in the here and now: how will you drive them forward?

Show off unique skillsets

The research showed that clients are interested in working with agencies that can demonstrate hard-to-find skillsets. These include:

  • Creativity and technical. You’re extremely confident in your agency’s design skills. But what about beyond these? Can you demonstrate you can take on other areas of projects, such as CRM, digital marketing or lead generation? If yes, then shout it from the rooftops. It’ll help you stand out as one to watch.

  • Front-end conceptual and delivery. Producing a fantastic set of concepts is one thing. But will they work in the real world? Clients don’t just want good ideas, they want good ideas that translate into their practical working environment. So don’t promise if you can’t deliver.

  • Strategic thinking and creativity. Clients have said this is a ‘rare combination’, so get it right and you’re already well ahead of the competition.

  • Creativity and commercial awareness. The most highly sought-after combination... with the powerful blend of commercial know-how and creativity, clients find it much easier to make an internal case and creative concepts carry much more weight.

Make ‘digital’ an integral part of your offering

While digital used to be its own separate entity, it’s now such a key part of our world that clients no longer expect it to be standalone. Bring digital into everything you do, making it an incontrovertible aspect of all your agency approaches.

Be discoverable

Clients want to discover you. They don’t want to be sold to. In fact, 91% of clients (a slight increase on last year) prefer agency content, new business approaches and meetings to feel more like an informed conversation, as opposed to a ‘sell’.

“Modern business development is about drawing clients to you, not endlessly knocking on doors with repeat messages. It’s about being smart, agile and thought provoking.” Up to the Light, 2021 What Clients Think report.

So, you need to play the game. Instead of chasing after work, you need to be discovered. Discovery is that word of mouth, or that piece of work you see on LinkedIn or in a trade mag.

Look to your website

Make sure your website reflects your agency, rather than including lots of unsubstantiated claims.

Clients are looking for reality, with bite-sized copy and clear, easy-to-scan samples of work.

65% said they found awards important, so if you have any, make sure to include them in a prominent position. 63% also said they’d like to see more ‘before and after’ examples rather than just the shiny new piece of work.

The top ten things clients look for on an agency website, in order of priority:

  1. Where do they excel?
  2. What’s the scope of their offer – are they specialists or generalists?
  3. Do they have anything that differentiates them from other agencies?
  4. Are there any examples of work in my sector?
  5. Are there any example of work that addressed a similar strategic challenge to the one I’m facing?
  6. Is the work clear and well presented?
  7. Are they an agency that I’d brief or would I go to them with a problem – how strategic are they?
  8. Who are the people behind the agency – if it’s a small/medium sized agency, tell me about the founders?
  9. What’s the agency culture – what makes them tick?
  10. Do they have views and opinions – are they sharing knowledge?

Check your social media

60% of clients say they follow their agency on social media, with 98% of these on LinkedIn, 35% on Instagram and just 20% on Twitter.

But following doesn’t equal engagement. Clients can go months without looking at LinkedIn, so you need to make sure you’re taking a multifaceted approach and not assuming that everything is reaching everyone.

Clients said they like to see:

  • Quick nuggets of information
  • Things that help them learn
  • Relevance
  • Strongly held, authentic views
  • Video and visuals
  • A distinctive, consistent theme

And they dislike too much:

  • Self-promotion
  • Trivia
  • Recruitment
  • Virtue signalling
  • Personal stories

Are you pitch perfect?

The vast majority – 98% - of clients believe that a pitch is good business practice for high-value projects. So perfecting your pitching and presentation techniques is a must if you’re to attract the eye of big-ticket clients.

Ultimately, clients are looking for an agency that understands the brand, places a focus on client services and process, and have a polished presentation style.

While it’s easy to focus on the creative concepts, it’s also important to factor other elements in, as shown below.

Interestingly, just over half of client respondents said they had pretty much made up their mind about a pitch presentation within 15 minutes. So get your compelling case out upfront and try to make an early good impression.

If you’re using a case study, make it relevant, commercially informative and offer learnings and insights.

Remember, when you’re pitching to a client, it’s not just showing off what you can do. They want to see what you can do for them. A subtle difference, perhaps, but a highly important one.

Attracting clients to your agency is a skill in itself. You need to be a lot of things: creatively skilled, commercially savvy, quick to learn and keen to add value. Clients are generally looking for more than a superficial relationship. They want an agency they can build trust with, have a future with and collaborate with. Shifting your thinking from ‘we’re brilliant’ to ‘we’ll be brilliant together’ is a great place to start.

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