The art of saying no to a client

Pete Hanford, Infectious Media's head of sales, discusses how to delicately tell a client that they're just not ready to implement an effective programmatic strategy.

At a recent programmatic event, one of the advertiser’s, Gawain Owen, Digital Lead, Nestle UK, made the point; for programmatic to work, you have to brief your agencies in the right way. They need to know what is important for you as a business, who your audience is and the message you want to promote.

As head of sales of the first programmatic agency in Europe, I totally agree with these views. Sometimes what a client asks for is so wide of the mark the only response we can give is “no”. However, it’s vital in such a competitive industry that you are able to do this without souring relationships.

Why say no?

The programmatic industry moves pretty fast and in its early days (about 18 months ago!) we turned down about 50-60% of briefs to buy ad campaigns programmatically. This was mainly down to ill-prepared instructions that simply didn’t recognise how programmatic worked or what it could deliver. This was exacerbated by a ‘lost in translation’ situation between the advertiser, the traditional media agency “middle-man” and the programmatic vendor.

This can be seen in a typical brief from the old days working with agencies. The agency simply said they had a budget and wanted so many thousand impressions. There was absolutely no information on the target audience or any kind of campaign messaging, nothing that would link the campaign to the advertiser’s actual objectives. That was an easy “no” as we simply didn’t have enough information to deliver a campaign of any real value.

I used this as an example of how not to brief your programmatic partner in a workshop we put on a few months ago. But sometimes it isn’t just a lack of information, but a miscalculation of what is needed for programmatic to work. For example, another brief for an international campaign, was detailed enough, but had a budget that was too thin to be spread across the six markets they were targeting. This was a “no” because the budget wasn’t big enough to get the data to optimise the campaign to a target audience in each market, and would therefore have been wasted.

We could have “taken the money and run,” but when you know a campaign won’t work, it’s more important to educate the client on what they really need, even if not always what they want to hear. In the above case, we focused on priority markets to put together a campaign that could make a real impact to the client’s business.

Most of the times we have said “no” it was understandable as people simply lacked knowledge about programmatic. However, we are still surprised by the lack of understanding of the digital display channel as a whole and how consumers interact with it.

What to do instead?

It’s important for us to take an educational and consultative approach with the client around the brief. This starts with getting to the crux of what they want to achieve, and not limiting thinking to the initial idea of how they want to achieve it. It then involves identifying key problems, measurements, data assets and the potential impact a programmatic campaign can have.

This is greatly helped by the fact that we work directly with clients these days (rather than via their agency). For instance, a retail client traditionally measured sales based on the last click but knew they weren’t maximising the opportunity. We identified a metric that could measure the true value of their advertising, which they were able to sell into their wider team. They’re now measuring display on the incremental increase in sales that can be directly attributed to their programmatic advertising.

To be fair, programmatic is complicated - it’s not client’s job to be experts. Generally we need to be educating clients by being transparent and honest about what the chances of success are with any given strategy.

This can really make a difference in a largely ‘black box’ industry. You may sometimes lose short-term business, but often clients will come on-board in a longer term partnership as a result.

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