Seven tips on ad agency client retention

Face it. There is probably no more pressing matter for your advertising agency than your client retention. Studies are showing the average retention for agency clients is now less than three years. That’s a lot of onboarding time and treasure invested for less than three years.

Being a media trading firm, we are in a unique position. We interact daily with advertising agencies all over the country while servicing our own clients in a related role. So, naturally we have some thoughts on best practices for retaining clients well beyond that current three year average. Below are some tips we’ve compiled from some of our senior media people that may remind you of some basic practices as well as some ideas you may not have considered.

Michael Tripodi, Vice President, Digital Director
Silloette head shot

Treat every client like they are brand new business. Always.

With every new client, there is a honeymoon period. Communication is rapid and complete, relationships are building and fun, social opportunities are made, and life is good. What happens after a few years? Responsiveness may drop off a bit, enthusiasm is replaced with a bit of complacency, and they’re just not as fun as they used to be. Losing the initial spark in a client relationship is certainly understandable, but it is a leading cause of the client looking elsewhere.

One way to maintain enthusiasm is to constantly be looking for ways to provide your client with something fresh. Not every new idea you present will be greeted with enthusiasm by the client, but they will see you stretching the boundaries. They will see that you care about their success and that in itself will go a long way to keeping the relationship healthy. Not only will your client see you trying, but if one of your brilliant ideas gets implemented and produces an ROI, you’ve added greatly to your client retention bank account.
And, yes, if all this sounds like tips for personal relationships, they are. People are people and we all want to feel appreciated and know that we are viewed as important. Always.


Vicki Fabricant, VP, Group Director
Vicki Fabricant photo

Implement the habit of consistently responsive communication

This one may seem obvious, but are you consistently practicing it? In other words, have you trained your clients that regardless of the reason for them contacting you through email or voice mail, they receive a response within 24 hours?

That response can be the answer they are looking for or it can be, “Great request/question, let me get back to you tomorrow on that.” They key is to not wait for your answer to materialize in order to get back to the client, but to respond now so they feel that they are getting attention.

Related to this is something I like to do which is to send a very short email response as soon as I receive something from a client. This response could be “Got it” or “Let me think about that. Get back to you tomorrow.” or something that simply acknowledges my receipt of a request or question. Again these may seem very basic, but it’s often the basics that we forget after a while. Oh, and do all these things with your internal team partners as well!


Larry Finnegan, VP, Director of National Broadcast

Larry Finnegan

Prove client success by good reporting

In my experience, client expansion has been based on agency executions and the best way to show progress on an account is to prove it with hard numbers and facts. It’s absolutely standard to supply some sort of post reporting as traditional client service, however most agencies miss the goal with their reports.

How I define ‘Buy Maintenance’ is the actual stewardship of the buys we have executed. Clients can easily look at a post analysis of their buy and see poor delivery of goals, downgraded buys, airing in inappropriate programming etc.. These all lead to agency business being up for review and the client potentially moving to another agency as opposed to them renewing and expanding on their existing business.

Examples of Buy Maintenance are:

  • Best in class stewardship
  • Delivering 100% of the buys guarantee within flight
  • Upgrading existing programming into Premium content/Special’s etc.
  • Securing ‘A’ commercial positions when possible
  • Increasing added value when faced with liability

When agencies deliver on the items listed here, clients will notice and be more likely to renew with their agency!


Concetta Lombardi, VP, Director Local Broadcast
Female headshot silouette

Treat your clients as people rather than a dollar-generating objects

Even though our motivation to keep clients happy is to continue the flow of the dollars they control, the irony is that the more we view these people we serve as a path to more dollars, the less we truly listen and respond to their very real needs.

How willing are we to do something they client needs that may actually in the short-term reduce our financial return? If your knee-jerk reaction to such a request is to convince them that they are wrong or that they should modify their decision, think twice. Yes, sometimes, client requests are not in their best interest, but sometimes they are.  If you are truly empathetic to your client’s best interests, you’ll be clear on your course of action: 1. do what they request, or 2.  convince them otherwise.

Human beings have an incredible capacity to know whether or not someone truly cares about their best interests. Listen to your client as they talk about their needs, propose unsolicited ideas, and surprise them with your forward thinking about their business and individual needs.


Jennifer Moore, SVP, Media Director
Jennifer Moore

Clearly communicate results on a regular basis

Clear frequent communications can go a long way toward fostering satisfied clients. Regular reporting of results that demonstrate an ROI make it much more difficult for clients to look elsewhere.

Doing this effectively goes beyond picking up the phone whenever something goes well. Set up a system of scheduled reporting of activities and their results. Even if the results are less than hoped for or not yet available, the fact that you communicated when promised/expected teaches the client that you are focused on them.

Regular reporting requires that you establish metrics that matter to the client. Determine what those metrics are such as cost of lead acquisition, cost per social follower, marketing content engagement, agency ROI, etc. You may find that by regularly communicating the state of your marketing and media efforts your client might start sharing a bit more of their results. Wouldn’t it be nice to get feedback on sales numbers after your most recent national TV campaign or digital buy? Train your client that regularly sharing data on results works really well both ways. Now you’ve got a healthy client partnership.

About Mike Lake

Mike is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Evergreen Trading. When not playing jazz trombone he is probably obsessing about writing content that will capture the attention and interest of business people and fellow learning junkies everywhere.

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