Many founders jump all over team members who say things to a client like, “Ad performance is down this month” or “This isn’t growing as fast as we want.” They don’t want these things said because they’re afraid that is admitting weakness or exposing their vulnerability to a client. They fear that the client will fire them or think less of them.
The reason founders have this fear is because they’ve mixed themselves up with the client happiness piece. They think that they’re responsible for client happiness, and if they admit vulnerability or weakness, it diminishes their capacity to create client happiness.
The big issue isn’t that someone said something that the founder wouldn’t, it’s that the founder is afraid of being transparent. They feel defensive about their role as an agency owner, and they don’t feel close enough to the client. If your client relationships cannot withstand a flub, or a misstatement, it’s not the misstatement that is at issue. It’s the fact that you don’t have a close enough relationship with your clients. You don’t trust them enough to trust you, and that’s a guaranteed recipe for failure.
The way that you get around this is by really understanding your clients. Talk to them. Have strategic meetings that are not about reporting. Ask them things like, “Hey, what if we thought about it this way?” Get their feedback.
You have to understand what your client’s world is like, so you can position your agency as additive to it, rather than just being a vending machine where you put in dollars and return on ad spend comes out. You have to trust your client enough to trust you.