The test of time: How we build long-term client relationships

Hands shaking

Back in 2002, when Jon Newman and Josh Dare struck out to start their own communications firm, they were guided by the notion of doing good work for good people. They also wanted to lose some of the pretenses that can come with the client/agency partnership. From the beginning, Hodges focused on the human side of its clients, each with their own challenges, expectations, ambitions and personal lives. The approach evolved into what we now call the “Hodges Way,” a deep-rooted philosophy that allows us to connect with clients by understanding who they are as people first.

A couple years ago, we shared our approach to client service. It’s guided by our core values: Collaborative, Driven, Bright and Genuine. These values aren’t lofty or grand but authentic traits that Hodgers embody – each in their own way. Collectively, they are part and parcel of our recipe for success, especially when it comes to long-term client retention. After all, we must be doing something right with several clients partnering with Hodges for more than 10 years and some as long as 15+ years. Not a bad track record when you consider the agency is just 18 years old.

We believe that there are some guiding principles to follow when it comes to client management – and the rest we leave up to Hodgers to bring along their own personal flare.

Here’s what we believe is essential to establishing lasting relationships between agencies and client.

  • See clients as people, first. In addition to being a client, they’re also parents, partners, children, friends and neighbors. And each role carries its own weight and responsibility. Be mindful and compassionate as you work alongside each other. Chances are, they will mirror this consideration back to your team (one that also is wearing a variety of similar hats.)
  • Understand how they’re being evaluated. Learn how you can make them successful in their role. Ask questions like – what does success look like? What does being successful on this initiative mean for you? What is leadership looking for from you? What’s on the line? Once you can see the view from their perspective, it’s easier to chart the way.
  • Craft a plan and get results. This one goes without saying – do what you said you could do. Build a team that’s suited for the work and follow through on the plan. An extra tip from Hodges is to score an early homerun. This takes the pressure off, builds momentum and starts the relationship off strong. Along the way, set expectations and track progress on an ongoing way.
  • Offer straight talk. A consistent comment we receive from our clients is our ability to bring honest and straightforward feedback. Because we work to establish a relationship built on trust, clients expect us to weigh in and pushback when we think it’s necessary. Our goal is to make our clients successful and that’s what guides our counsel.
  • Ask for their feedback. Understanding how we’re measuring up in the eyes of our clients is extremely important to creating a long-term relationship. Receiving positive feedback tells up to keep it up and hearing criticism allows us to course correct and refocus. Ask for this feedback formally at least once a year and establish informal check-ins with clients regularly. Once the trust is established, most clients are comfortable sharing constructive feedback.
  • Market their success. Equally as important as getting the results is sharing the results – internally and externally. Develop reporting documents that can be easily reviewed by leadership, seek awards opportunities to further highlight the success and go the extra mile to draft social media posts that highlights some of the bigger wins – whether that’s a media hit, speaking opportunity, social audience milestone or viral campaign. Whatever it is, the lifespan can and should be extended.

Long-term relationships evolve over time and there will be bumps along the way. During those times, trust and credibility get us through. When you’ve built a strong foundation, you can withstand challenges and come out stronger and more aligned on the other side.

We’re extremely grateful for the wisdom, success and friendships we’ve enjoyed with the clients that have looked to Hodges over the years. We’re a bright bunch, so with every new client we’re optimistic that we’ll grow and do a lot of good work along the way, together.

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Lindsay O'Bar

Lindsay’s work focuses on community relations, internal communications and media relations for companies like Kroger, Virginia’s Community Colleges and the Virginia Department of Transportation. By marrying research and strategic thinking, she helps clients thoughtfully engage audiences and the community while driving business results.

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