JWT European marketing director on how agencies can improve their client relationships

Author Jane Austen and agencies may not appear likely bedfellows but there is a lot agencies can draw from her example when it comes to cultivating client relationships, according to JWT European marketing director Carmen Bekker.

Speaking at The Drum's Brief Encounters conference in London, Bekker described how the author has influenced her career, particularly when it comes to how she builds lasting relationships with clients.

"Jane Austen was not only a great author but also a great letter writer, her letters were personal and varied in tone depending on who she was speaking to. There's a quote in Mansfield Park - 'This was a letter to be run through eagerly, to be read deliberately, to supply matter for much reflection, and to leave everything in greater suspense than ever' - and I want people to feel that way about my communications," said Bekker.

There are three virtues agency professionals can learn from Austen, according to Bekker - personalisation, creativity and patience.

"We talk about creating personal relationships but we can now communicate with thousands of people using just one click. Unlike Jane, rather than waiting weeks we get bombarded with messages and it's great for trying to raise awareness, but is it getting to the heart of what needs to be said?" she asked.

She believes both time and energy should be invested to improve business prospects, as pitching comes down to "the people in the room, personality and charm".

Drawing on her own career, which began at Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts, before later moving to agency Saatchi & Saatchi, before joining JWT Europe, Bekker said charm was a key component to success in both account management and new business.

"In account management you and your client are succeeding together but in new business there is no 'us' - it's up to you to create that us," she said.

"You need charm to make that work…but no matter how charming you are that is made more difficult if your company is unfamiliar and you will struggle if your business doesn't stand for anything. Saatchi & Saatchi understood that better than anyone."

Speaking of the second virtue Austen could teach agencies - creativity - Bekker explained this is the key to getting messages "run through eagerly" and referenced a German wine club as a recent example of harnessing this well.

"They sent miniature French wine cases and a letter written in red wine to prospects," she told delegates.

"With that they included a pen filled with red wine and encouraged people to write back to them in red wine. They got at least six meetings out of that and that was just by taking the time to be personal and creative.

Bekker claimed digital has gone some way to eroding people's levels of patience, as "we no longer have to wait for anything".

She added: "There's an issue with people just clicking and sending things and thinking 'I've done a good job as it's off my desk and onto yours' but growing relationships needs communications that add value and suit needs. You have to tailor any messages to clients to show specifically how they can be better off with you and that takes time.

"I worked with a client eight years ago and she became a friend as well as a client. She's since moved to other companies and by approaching her at this new company in a way that was intelligent and thoughtful of what she needed has lead her to thinking about changing agency. Long lasting relationships require dedication."

Digital-preneur Jason Swenk also took to the stage at the 'Brief Encounters - New Business, New Relationships, True Love' conference yesterday to share his tips on taking your agency to the next level.

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