Proactivity - yay or nay?

July 16, 2019

Excerpt from 'How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager's guide to pretty much everything'. Available now!


If you ask any client whether or not they would like their agency account managers to be ‘proactive’ they will probably say “of course!”. But, what would each party understand by the word "proactive" and how vital is it to ensure you and your client are on the same (dictionary) page? defines being proactive as:

“You make things happen instead of waiting for them to happen to you.”

When this definition is considered in an agency/client context, it could apply to things such as:

  • Presenting creative concepts or business ideas, or suggesting a course of action without being asked to do so.
  • Introducing your client to new or innovative technologies.
  • Collecting examples of what competitors are doing in the market and giving them to your client.
  • Thinking of your client's yearly marketing requirements further ahead than your current project or campaign.
  • Identifying how topical news stories or past/present/upcoming events could be capitalised on by your client.
  • Sending your client interesting or inspiring articles or information. 

Will proactivity be well-received?

Does your client truly like their agency to be proactive? Well, yes…and no. A lot has to do with the agenda that lies behind the proactivity.

Clients like to be kept abreast of the latest and greatest industry information. Freely sharing knowledge without requiring payment in return is a great way of forging closer relationships.

Your client likes to know that you care about her business, and that you spend time thinking about her marketing needs beyond the remit of your current campaign.

What a client does not like is when you treat her as if there's a dollar sign strapped to her forehead. She will soon be able to tell if you present an idea, or campaign concept, or shiny new technology, which does not relate to her business needs or goals, or if she feels like you are deliberately trying to drive more sales.

An example:
Your agency team has been toying with an AR (augmented reality) idea. They have come up with an experiential campaign that would lend itself nicely to one client - Mythco - and their latest product which you will help take to market later in the year.

You proactively approach Mythco with this new idea, and proceed to explain the exciting technology, how cutting edge it is, and how impressed the public would be to see Mythco playing in this space. After all, Mythco usually puts big money in behind their campaigns and you think they will be able to wear the cost.

After showing the Mythco team the technology, and explaining how you envisage this working you are taken aback by their negative response.

Little did you realise that while you were enthusiastically deep-diving into the world of AR, the face of your main client contact had clouded with suspicion. Instead of being wowed by the technology she was trying to compute how the AR concept was going to convert into sales for their business. She was struggling to understand how this could fit in to her current year's marketing plan, and its associated budget. She was calculating the risk of the project and how she would personally fare if it didn't see material results. By the end of the presentation she had assessed the risk to be too high, the concept too expensive and the relevance to business requirements too low. Your idea was rejected.

To present or not to present

To ensure that time you spend on developing proactive ideas will be worth the effort, try answering the following questions:

  • What is your true motivation for presenting this concept? Is it in your client's best interest, or yours?
  • Why this particular concept?
  • Why now?
  • Is there any urgency to acceptance of this proposal? Why?
  • What business need or goal does it address for your client?
  • Will the idea be appropriate for the current year's marketing plan? Next year's?
  • What is the total cost? Is it within your client's current budget? If not, could it be achievable for the next year's budget? Are you expecting your client to find money they may not have at any time?
  • What are the actual or perceived risks with this concept?
  • Will you be able to measure the ROI?

Nailing it

Clients commission (and pay) agencies for their ideas. Presenting well-timed and relevant ideas that your clients do not expect, or creating moments when your proactivity exceeds your client's expectations, can be golden in the agency/client relationship.

If you have a deep understanding of your client's business then you should be savvy enough to present only those ideas that you know will be well-received. This will save you a whole lot of time, effort and valuable credibility.



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