When Peter Stanton founded Stanton Communications in 1989, he was singularly focused on establishing a firm that prioritized the client. Having spent nearly the prior decade in an environment that emphasized billable hours and maximum profits above all else, Peter felt there was a better way, and built Stanton Communications on a commitment to client service excellence.
Through the years, the Stanton team included professionals with a range of career experience. Some came from traditional agency settings. Others held communication positions in associations and major corporations. A few, like me, came from the media. It has been a mixed bag of skills that nevertheless always benefitted our thinking and continues to expand our capabilities. It also motivated us to codify our approach to client service to ensure that every Stanton team member, regardless of background, understood and shared the same commitment that inspired Peter to found this firm.
Our Client Service Maxims, which address such areas as responsiveness, humility, and integrity, live on every team member’s desk as a daily reminder of the promise we make to the clients we are fortunate to serve. They prompt us to work in a manner that builds trust, exceeds expectations, and minimizes opportunities for misunderstanding.
One concept that is not on our formal list of maxims, but which I have found instructive over 18 years in this field, is perspective. Approaching our work from the perspective of our clients provides an entirely new view of our value as a partner and can make the difference between a healthy, successful, and long-term relationship, and one that runs its course quickly. The times we have failed to demonstrate our value have been because we lost—or never found—that perspective.
So how is the client’s perspective achieved? By finding the answers to a few important questions.
Why are we here?
Every client has a different motivation for partnering with an agency. Most need help thinking strategically. Others require a specific capability, such as media relations or content marketing. Others simply want extra arms and legs to get the work done.
The reason why a client needs an agency partner is not always described in an RFP or Scope of Work. Even if it is addressed to an extent, what is written may not be the whole story. A direct conversation or one-on-one time in the client’s work environment can illuminate the value our team brings to the relationship.
This was true for me in the case of a client who, on the surface, simply needed help with media outreach. Once I spent some time in his work environment, however, it became clear that his needs went far beyond press relations. What he really needed was for our team to bring a structured approach to the nearly non-stop demands facing his small team. Injecting discipline into the organization’s communication team became our most meaningful contribution to the relationship.
There is a reason a client selects one firm over another. Sometimes that reason is the agency’s strength in one area or a unique capability that sets it apart. But there are times when clients make decisions based on chemistry with the team. Recognizing the personal elements of the client/agency dynamic from their perspective rather than yours can be a critically important part of building a solid partnership.
This is particularly true if the bond is strong with one person rather than with the whole team. In that situation, there is an opportunity for the rest of the group to learn why the relationship works so well, and emulate those qualities. As much as we like to think that all good things will last forever, people move on in their careers, and if one person dominates the relationship, the client can move on with them.
Clients can become so focused on immediate demands and pressures that they do not always have a chance to ask or consider, “What else might we be doing to achieve our goals?” We have an obligation to help address the immediate demands, but also to assume a position of proactivity and strategic counsel to bring forward ideas and recommendations that advance the greater goals of the business.
We once had a client who incessantly asked “What am I missing?” She was right to expect us to have the answers and to help her maintain a broader view when her focus was narrowed out of necessity. We should always aim to bring that perspective, even when the client isn’t asking the question.
What is being measured?
Clients place genuine demands on their agency partners to deliver results and be accountable. It is safe to say all agencies accept this reality. What agencies often forget is that the clients themselves have certain accountabilities and responsibilities within their organizations. They, too, are being measured and evaluated, often in an intensely competitive market. We need to understand how that happens, what metrics are applied, and the ways we can help our clients exceed their accountability commitments.
One element in the client/agency relationship that is easy to overlook is that clients are people, with needs, families, and obligations that have nothing to do with work. Recognizing what is going on with them is vital. Being attentive, courteous, and—a word almost never included in any RFP—kind, may not be in our Scope of Work, but it is one of the most valuable things we can do as a genuine partner.
We have worked with clients who do not receive that same consideration from their own teams, and greatly value our support. We also have been on the receiving end of such kindness, and it strengthens our bond in ways even the greatest programmatic successes cannot.
In Pursuit of Uncommon Excellence
Our primary mission as a firm is to provide client service excellence at a level uncommon in our field. This shared purpose lives in our Client Service Maxims and in philosophies we individually bring to our work. We are not always perfect. At times we miss the mark. But when we do, we know why, and we emerge with a renewed commitment to excellence.