Agency versus client – when is it ok to push back?

Atomic 212 campaign strategist, Tarryn Corlett
By Atomic 212 campaign strategist, Tarryn Corlett | 5 August 2016
Tarryn Corlett

Anyone who has ever worked within the dynamic and forever evolving agency world will understand the value in the statement - how far is too far? This phrase only resonates with me too well, particularly when it comes to client expectations, pushbacks and performance under extraordinary circumstances. Simply put, it's the average agency workweek.

There is a power struggle that comes into play on a daily basis. I am very interested in this dynamic between the client, being the valued budget provider, and the agency, which has the necessary experience or skills to get a job done with the budget provided by the client. This imbalance can create upset, immense pressure, stress and eventually an unhappy client and an unhappy agency staffer. Is push back acceptable?

As an agency, we expect our staff to deliver work at an exceptional level, absolute quality and at competitive rates, but when is it ok for an agency to say “No” or to push back if the expectations are unrealistic or unobtainable? Throw in a looming time frame, budget constraints and all-nighters…but we keep going, racing towards that not so distant light at the end of the tunnel.

There are only 24 hours in a day and generally only around 7-9 hours in a normal working day, but in agency life this can extend right through to the next morning, depending on the deadline. What’s more, any typical agency could have from about 5 – 50 clients, each with their own set of timelines and demands. So how do we find a balance, prioritise and push back when we need to?

While it’s important for us to remember that every client should be treated like gold, we also need to be realistic to avoid future disappointment. There are only so many episodes of intense pressure that a person can handle before they fall off the rails, before your brain freezes, your blood boils and and your eyes lock into stagnant stares of rage because of high demands and short deadlines.

Now, while my article may be perceived as obnoxious or arrogant, that isn’t my intention. What I’m merely trying to point out is that clients and agencies should be working together to set attainable goals that are realistic and fair for both parties, rather than pushing unrealistic expectations, because one holds the money card.

The client may hold that money card, but there is a reason the client has approached the agency, and that is because the agency has the necessary skills, expertise and experience. The agency is not only the service provider, but the respected advisor, and this is what balances the playing field.

Agencies should never push back just for the sake of it. If you have the resources and the time, you should deliver. But in certain circumstances, pushback should be more than acceptable. Mutual respect for each other’s work will go a long way.

The problem is agencies are always under pressure and their staff battle to find a balance between their work obligations and their personal lives.

I must admit, I love working under the pump. I feel more productive, but there is also a point when I can take this too far because of my fear of pushing back. I end up taking my work home with me during the week and on weekends. My mind is constantly consumed with deadlines and this isn’t healthy. If something is briefed in at the last minute with an exceptionally short deadline, it should be ok to push back without the fear of losing the work or our clients.

How do we push back without being too pushy?

Business consultant Travis Young has discussed this topic at some length. The “push back” has become the popular vernacular for standing up for yourself when faced with excessive demands, expectations or poor behavior on the part of a supervisor, colleague, or management team (the board or executive committee) or in this case… Clients.

Before you push back, make sure you know who you are pushing back against. Make sure you understand their role and position. Take personalities out of this. Take any personal grievances out of your approach and remove yourself from your emotions. Always push back from a calm and objective state of mind and provide adequate reasons for your request.”
We all have certain clients that we have better relationships with, ones where we know we can push back gently and usually get this approved.

So prioritise the clients who genuinely will not budge. However, you can also mention to these clients that if they want the job done correctly, they will need to give you a reasonable extension. If this isn’t at all possible, they will have to move up in your production line and take priority because at the end of the day, you also need to keep your clients happy.

Remain consistent and always deliver on time.

I have found, that the more you do to keep you clients happy, the more likely they are to allow the push back. I have a very strict work ethic. All my clients are equally important and I will always deliver a high standard of work, maintain constant communication during any process and always deliver at the agreed deadline.

When you maintain this kind of consistency, your client is more likely to help you out. Whether we sit on the client or agency side of things, we are all human and a common understanding and respect can be attained if you handle the push back correctly and with respect and professionalism.

I have found that by doing this from time to time, I have managed to get my personal and work life back in check. I feel more productive and I also find that this has actually strengthened my relationship and trust with my clients.

So remember just breathe.

By Atomic 212 campaign strategist, Tarryn Corlett

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