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How to have a happy client: eight secrets from an agency insider

Colm Larkin

October 28, 2014

Having happy clients is the raison d’etre of a creative agency. Quality of work is the ultimate determiner of satisfaction, but along the way the creative process will place obstacles in the path of good relationships.

Managing these is a murky mix of art and science, especially when dealing with demanding or difficult clients, but our source at a well-regarded creative agency (who wishes to remain anonymous) revealed their eight insider tips for keeping clients happy.

Table Stakes1. Make them listen to themselves
“The golden rule of any client interaction is: listen. But I add a twist to this. Once I’m done listening, I repeat what I’ve heard. Making a client hear what they’ve just said is invaluable. Not only does it ensure I haven’t misinterpreted anything, hearing their brief explained by someone else often highlights potential issues. I prefer my clients to recognize problems themselves, instead of me having to point them out.”

2. Never reject their bad ideas
“When a client says ‘my idea is to …’, my instinct is to point out why their hysterically awful suggestion won’t work. Instead, I take notes and say something like ‘we’ll add it to the list’. When I return with our (hopefully) much better ideas, they probably won’t mention it again. If they do, I say it didn’t quite work. They’re usually happy that I considered it and I get bonus point for being receptive to their ideas.”

3. Don’t make delivery promises straight away
“Clients want immediate delivery date commitments. As much as I’d like to conclude meetings with a firm, ‘yes we can’, I always check with my team first. Not only does this show that we take deadlines seriously, the next time the same client rings with an urgent request, I can buy time before committing. It’s amazing how many must-have-it-tomorrow emergencies dissipate within hours of the initial request.”

4. Explain the two out of three rule
“Clients will always want you to produce award-winning work in less than a week for next-to-no money. The most demanding won’t even understand why it’s not possible. I usually find that explaining the ‘two out of three’ rule helps:

You can have it fast and great, but not cheap.
You can have it fast and cheap, but not great.
You can have it great and cheap, but not fast.
You can never have all three.”

5. Never present ideas you don’t love
“It’s tempting when preparing a campaign ideas presentation to add one more to mix. I sometimes think that including a not-so-great idea highlights the effort we put in or will make our other suggestions look stronger. But what if the client picks the wrong concept? We’re stuck producing our own dumb idea. If our main ideas are good enough, that’s all we should need. If they hate them, we can still fall back on the reject.”

6. Don’t assume you’ll find ‘it’
“‘I’ll know it when I see it’: seven words that strike terror in the hearts of creative professionals. If a client doesn’t like our idea but can’t explain why, I never assume that we’ll just hit the mark next time. Them not knowing what they want is my problem so I’ll spend more time with them exploring other work they like. This helps me get inside their heads and closer to finding ‘it’.”

HappyClient-GuessWho7. Know who actually has final approval
“The final seal of approval may not come from the person you deal with every day. Marketing managers have CMOs, CMOs have CEOs, so I always establish exactly who is the ultimate authority before proceeding with an idea. People usually hate showing rough sketches to their boss, meaning we may need to flesh out one or two elements in advance. But ensuring your campaign avoids a last minute thumbs-down is worth our time.”

8. If all else fails, raise your rates
“Most clients are a joy to work with. Hopefully these tricks will help you deal with the most challenging parts of the creative process and leave you with a happy client. But sometimes, you just know that someone is going to be impossible to work with. If simply turning down the work is not an option, raise your rates by 20%. At least then, you can console yourself with cash during another long weekend of last minute revisions.”

Those are our agency insider’s eight secrets for keeping their clients happy. What are your tips for ensuring your clients always come back to you with more business? Let us know in the comments below.

Get in touch to learn how creative collaboration with Hightail can help keep your agency’s clients happy.


  1. Nirmala Trisna

    4 years ago

    Great insider tips. All make sense. Thank you!

  2. Bill Higgins

    4 years ago


    I like the concept of shrt bursts of marketing gems.

    keep them coming.

  3. Nigel Robinson

    4 years ago

    Good points….but I would modify number 2 to something that I preach. Don’t fall at the first hurdle. Always give the client what they want. If their request is so bad prove it with good design and a better solution. Let them see that investing in you and your services are worthwhile. N

  4. anne marie Barton

    4 years ago

    love love love this email…have loved all information you attached.
    very insightful and helpful and inspiring.

    thank you so much.

  5. Patrick I

    4 years ago

    Well stated….and amazingly similar to the methods I’ve developed over 40 years in my Architectural practice.

  6. Mike Morgan

    4 years ago

    I agree with Nigel. My 15 plus years in the business has taught me that making the client happy is more important that knowing I am right. Many times we have developed campaigns that I personally do not like but the client absolutely loves and in return those clients have referred over the years and ultimately the client is spending the money so I will state my case as to why I do not think it will be a good idea but I always finish with “But! you are the client and I work for you.”
    I feel this goes a long way in saying – I know who is boss but if it doesn’t work then it’s not my fault.

  7. Anne Steel

    4 years ago

    Very well put. I totally agree and have been using these tips myself for years. I am sure I have been continually busy for 25 years because of it. It really does pay to keep the client happy.

  8. Janelle

    4 years ago

    Great tips for business AND personal life. Heck, I use the listen and repeat back with my husband and kids, “so, what I hear you saying is…” works every time.

    Thanks for sharing!!

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