The Client Approval Meeting

Much of a media buyer’s work focuses on preparing for the next approval meeting. It might be a media-brief discussion, or it might be a review of a list of sites. Perhaps it’s the finalized plan document that needs a signature to give the agency the legal authority to go purchase the media. Approval meetings tend to have their own dynamics, and the smart marketer will pay attention to them.

Those Meddlesome Clients

Marketers at advertising companies who aren’t secure enough about their own knowledge or level of contribution to a campaign will sometimes use the approval meeting as an opportunity to meddle.

Much of the marketing process involves an agency or other vendor taking direction from the marketer to come back with a semifinished product. Depending on the relationship between that marketer and the vendor, that product can then enter into a no-man’s land of revisions, or it can pass through relatively unscathed as a finished product.

The most egregious examples of this type of change for change’s sake comes when very high-level senior executives get involved in projects at the last minute — not only on the client side but also with internal agency approvals. I can remember, several times, changing the creative in new business efforts on the day before the final pitch — never to much advantage.

In theory, the more strategic issues should get more client scrutiny. Documents such as strategy briefs and site-buying criteria should get more discussion, and potential revision, than the subsequent lists of sites to purchase.

But, sometimes, agencies and other vendors will begin to sense that certain people feel that some sort of change is always needed, even if only to justify their own role in the process.

The trick is determining the reason a client insists on making seemingly unwarranted changes. It might be that the client has a vastly different conception of what the work should be. Or perhaps the client just has a completely different sensibility than the person creating the work. These are relatively easy to resolve. Simple staff changes often fix this problem.

It might be, though, that an insecure client feels the need to re-establish his own authority or legitimize his role through the modification of the work. It takes someone of some self-possession to be able to say, “They came back with some good work, and I don’t think any change I could make would significantly improve it.”

I talk to people at all sorts of agencies, and lots of people have stories indicating that this issue is fairly widespread. They tend to involve the following characters:

  • The people who approve or disapprove of work based on their mood that day (I remember two different instances, one with Sun Microsystems and the other with Microsoft, when we would call our client to cancel approval meetings if that morning the ticker symbol indicated a drop)
  • The person who needs to have a meeting last at least a certain length of time, or through a certain number of disagreements, to feel satisfied that an issue is covered properly
  • The clients who want out-of-the-box creative work but are afraid of the responsibility that might then fall on their shoulders
  • The clients who fear that their vendor counterparts are smarter and therefore feel that they themselves must appear more intelligent by making the vendor obey a change order
  • The marketing managers at an advertiser who don’t feel like they’ve contributed enough to the process unless they’ve helped author the work

In each of these cases, I recommend setting up a meeting with the clients to air out all concerns. These problems only get worse; they spread and develop into other types of disorders, such as animosity and agency reviews. Such a meeting also could show consistent failings in the agency work that need to be addressed.

Keeping the Agency on Its Toes

The marketing managers on the client side do need to put scrutiny on the agency, as agencies are prone to get lazy when clients let them. But consistently modifying things serves more to discourage great and creative work than to inspire more attention and diligence.

When it comes to approvals, clients and vendors can help determine whether they have a functional relationship by answering “yes” to the following questions:

  • Has the client made a significant change to presented work in the past few meetings?
  • Has the client decided not to suggest any significant changes to the work in the same period?
  • Did the client’s input come early enough in the process for the vendor to produce the work correctly in the first place?

In the absence of affirmative answers to each of these, the client and vendor should sit down to have a friendly discussion about their roles in future approval meetings.

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