Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Playing Golf With The Client: An Essential Part Of Business

Now that the summer is upon us, I thought this was an appropriate posting.

                                           golfing photo: Siedel\'s Golfing 382194977_l.jpg

I just interviewed a young account supervisor.  She was fabulous.  She was not actively looking for a job (the best time to see me).  She liked her account and she liked her agency, but had been told by a friend to meet me for the future.   People like her are my favorite people to interview.

In the course of our conversation she had one negative thing to say about her account and the people she works with.  She works on a major international account with a number of brands and divisions.  She thought that her Group Account Director (an EVP) did not work very hard; after all, he went skiing in the winter with clients and went golfing during the rest of the year, often taking a day or two off to do so.  She told me that her clients loved this account director, but she couldn’t understand why. After all, she reasoned, he hardly worked. (By the way, she had no issues with his contributions while in the office.)

I explained to her that golf is work.  I could tell from the look on her face that she did not comprehend and disagreed.  I asked her if she ever had lunch with her client, who happens to be here in NYC.  She told me that once or twice a year, generally after presentations, the agency took a large group to lunch or dinner.  I explained that that is not really dining with the client and that she should go out of her way to meet the client, one-on-one..

The whole notion of entertaining and getting to know a client on a personal level is foreign to her.  It never occurred to her and it had not apparently occurred to the account director she worked for, who feels the same way. 

I asked her if she watched Mad Men and she did sometimes but believed that the drinking and entertaining it portrayed was only Hollywood and television.

Entertaining clients is  unfortunately an art that is being lost.  But it is an essential part of business.  Getting a client to know you as a person and to like you goes a long way towards building the credibility and trust necessary garner respect and to sell good work.  It is also essential to learning the business.  Clients are much more likely to take you into their confidence when they are relaxed and out of the office.

Is golf, or tennis, or skiing, or theater or dinner relaxing?  You bet.  Is it good for business? Absolutely. But, don’t kid yourself, when it is with client’s, it is work also.

I cannot tell you how many times I hear of accounts being lost because the senior management of agencies didn’t really have relations with the senior management of their clients.  Entertaining is a proper and necessary way to do that – even the government recognizes that and gives tax deductions for entertaining.

I firmly believe that all agencies should encourage even their junior people to get to know their clients outside of business.  That goes for creatives, media and planners/researchers as well as account people.


  1. VERY true, and I witnessed it first hand at 2 different NYC agencies. At the first big shop, the EVP had always made a point of socializing with all the clients, from the lowliest assistant brand manager to the President. And as each client climbed the ladder, this agency guy continued to "schmooze" them. As a result, he was so intertwined with this client that no matter how the agency performed, they weren't going anywhere!

    A few years later at a different large agency, I watched a huge client walk out the door after more than a decade, despite a year of the Management Supervisor begging agency leadership to put an EVP on the account to build personal relationships. And where did they go? Ironically, to that first agency!

    Needless to say those lessons have stuck with me.

    1. Having relationships that go beyond the simple day-t-day is essential to the conduct of business. It keeps accounts at agencies and other businesses.

  2. Well said, Paul. It's only at this point in my life, as a business owner that I realize this. And can point to COUNTLESS pieces of business that were lost because of all to little attention being paid.

    1. Every business manager and owner knows or should know that good work can attract clients, but relationships keep them. And those relationships have to be from the top down - with everyone.

  3. For want of a martini the business was lost.

  4. I also know of two very large accounts that were lost when (separate) holding companies bought out agencies and the holding company leadership (in both cases very high profile people) did not reach out directly to Client leadership. One of these incidents occurred in the 1980s and one in the 2000s but I think its a key lesson for "advertising eternity".

  5. @Triple: I know you are right. It takes so little to reach out to a client. A simple breakfast might have done it. I know of one agency founder whose agency grew exponentially, and in order to reach out to clients, he forced himself to have two breakfasts in the same day, eating sparingly at each, but neither client knew. It can be done.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. This actually answered my downside, thanks right here on this post. I will likely be coming again to your weblog for extra soon.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License