Once upon a time in the Wild West that was the Internet of the late ’90s and early millennium, digital marketing agencies as we know them today didn’t exist.
Much of online marketing was spammy in one way or another. A hacker ethos reigned – if we could trick the search engines into doing our bidding and make money from our ingenuity, we were the winners.
It was an outlaw culture of lone wolves who didn’t conform.
And because of this, we could publicly speak our mind. We were the online equivalent of Chesterfield Cigarettes: No filter between our thoughts and our words, no matter the situation. Believe it or not, this is the climate in which many of the most visible people in our industry today cut their teeth.
Things have evolved greatly since those days, and the black-hatters who still make their living the way of 10-15 years ago are few and far between.
Many of us have gone mainstream in the agency world, where we work with peers and clients who have no idea how things used to be. We’ve had to sacrifice some of our outspokenness and directness in order to fit in and work with clients.
It’s a natural progression – but not necessarily a good one.
Stop coddling clients
I’ve seen marketers (non-team members, of course) turn client communications into something that sounds and feels like a timeshare pitch. I’ve even seen situations where far more effort has gone into the “presentation” of the data than the actual managing of the account. The results? Spun so far from reality as to have no remote resemblance to the true health of the account.
If you’re coddling your clients until things start to go awry, you’re not doing them any favors.
These days, ranking well is infinitely more complex than it used to be. Google is making it extremely difficult to generate meaningful organic traffic through any means that appears unnatural.
Search marketers who understand Google’s new reality and how to thrive within it need to run campaigns like a field general in order to maximize the chances of success.
Time to get tough
With search changing faster than ever before and getting tougher every day, maybe it’s time for a return to the unfiltered days of straight talk, no chaser. If you ask me, a client should cherish an agency contact who is willing to risk hurting your feelings in order to help your business.
Clients have invested time and money in this process because you’re the expert. Most are willing to follow their marching orders – but for those who stray, tough love is entirely appropriate. Otherwise, you risk jeopardizing the very goals they’re relying on you to achieve.
But you can’t just start doling out verbal slaps without any warning. Give clients the proper expectations early and often so that they’re not surprised if you need to show them a little moxie later.
And no, the unfiltered approach isn’t for everyone. Some people might be reluctant to embrace tough love. A client-agency relationship is a critical and intimate one, and everyone is different.
I personally favor the consultative process that encourages direct, forthright communication between myself and the client. I focus on how my agency can help meet the client’s needs – not how cool I am or how many tools we use. Through the exchange of ideas, we can together craft a process that meets their business goals.
Online marketing has come a long way from the chaotic world of the early Internet. There’s no more Wild West, and maybe that’s a good thing. But one thing we can – and should – return to from those days is our honesty and directness. Our clients deserve it.