How To Keep Your Client Roster: 12 Insider Strategies

Lessons From the Frontlines: Real Advice From Agency Leaders

Per a 2023 Setup survey of brand marketers, clients’ reported dissatisfaction level with the value they received from their agencies was 53% — up 36% from 2022 (39%). Moreover, 55% of clients reported that they were likely to switch agencies in 2024.

In this challenging environment, it’s more important than ever to retain your existing clients. But this is easier said than done. How do you keep the relationship thriving? How do you build stickiness and client loyalty?

To explore client retention tips for agencies, we reached out to 13 agency leaders to gather practical advice on mastering the client lifecycle. Here’s what they had to say.

12 Agency Client Retention Tips

1. Run Robust Discovery Meetings

“When you go through an RFP process — or maybe you avoided an RFP and you just were selected — have a clear, robust discovery session,” said Dave Miglin, the chief growth officer and vice president of media and digital services at Strategic America. “Before you kick off doing anything, have a real comprehensive study of what it is that they expect out of you. Learn about where the pitfalls were with the other agency that’s leaving (if there was one).

“Understand the personalities and how they like to be communicated with,” he continued. “Work with the KPIs that they have established. What are their leadership expectations of them? Because if we can make our clients — our direct clients — look great to their bosses, that can only help them in the long run as well.”

2. Focus on Forming Strong Client Relationships and Being Client-Centric

“Our agency prioritizes the relationships with our clients,” said Ryan Doser, the vice president of inbound marketing at Empathy First Media. “This involves face-to-face meetings, traveling for holiday parties, celebrating their milestones/birthdays, etc. Building strong relationships with our clients on a personal level is key.”

Forming strong, solid relationships with your clients should occur even before you sign on with a new client, or at least from day one. One of the ways to do so is to “always be wildly client-centric,” Elizabeth “EZ” Zupkow, a Goodway senior director of client experience, suggested. “Delivering great work and making your client look like a hero should be the north star.”

Daniel Myers, a partner, account and media director at Three Sixty Group, noted the same. When asked what some of the top strategies his team uses to retain clients are, he answered, “Our client service. We treat our clients the way we like to be treated — with respect, using clear communication and treating their money as if it were your personal stash.”

To develop these client relationships, Jennifer Nugent, the group connections director at VML, advised: “Actively listen! It’s probably one of the biggest challenges humans face, to simply listen and truly hear another person sharing their thoughts, observations and concerns, so as much as possible, I try to simply listen and then take the time to formulate a response or solution.”

3. Make Earning Your Clients’ Trust a Priority

It’s possible your clients may have been burned by previous agencies, so make it a goal to do everything you can to earn their trust and demonstrate why they should trust you in your actions, deeds and results.

One of the ways to earn trust is to deliver work when you say you will. “Under-promise and over-deliver — not the other way around,” EZ said. “Never commit to a project you cannot overachieve in delivering.”

This also involves transparently sharing results, whether they’re good or bad. “Celebrate the wins, but do not hide the negative,” Scott Blessman, the vice president of analytics and data insights at Goodway Group, said. “Be transparent, bring it forward and discuss solutions to improve.”

4. Maintain Frequent Communication (and Consider In-Person Meetings)

Don’t leave clients in the dark. To build trust and demonstrate how you can solve client challenges, you need to continually communicate with your customers, show you’re invested in their business and highlight the progress you’re making. This will also allow you to uncover any additional business goals they may have so you can formulate plans and strategies to address them.

“We maintain regular communication with our clients, keeping them informed about the progress of campaigns and any changes,” Ryan said. “Transparent and consistent reporting on KPIs helps clients understand the value we deliver.”

“More frequent touchpoints have really helped us to keep the lines of communication open. We have weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with most clients,” Amy Hall, the president of The Barber Shop Marketing, said. “These shorter, more frequent meetings take the pressure of prep for the team and help keep both sides accountable.”

Amy also suggested that you consider bringing back in-person meetings with your clients if possible or you’re already not doing so. “Virtual made these more frequent touchpoints easier. However, during key times, nothing can replace the power of a face-to-face meeting,” she explained.

5. Have Processes in Place To Avoid Scope Creep

Scope creep is an unfortunate reality for many agencies, and while it may not be possible to 100% prevent, there are ways you can better prepare for it and mitigate it. One of the methods to do so is via the robust discovery sessions that Dave advised you to use before you start working with a client. That way, as an agency, you can assign the proper amount of time and budget to your client projects.

Another process to consider employing is what EZ mentioned earlier — under-promising and over-delivering. This is a practice that Brittany Sadlouskos, the vice president of DAA Media + Marketing, employs with her team. “Strategically set yourself up to under-promise and over-deliver,” she advised. “At the beginning of a project, how can you identify things that you know you’re going to over-deliver on? And how can you position that in a way that is beneficial to you?”

Brittany explained that lead times are a good place to focus on under-promising and over-delivering. “Clients want things fast, and they want it reactive,” she said. “Whatever is timely for them has to be timely for you. So, over-delivering could look like getting something live within that 24-to-48-hour window instead of that five-to-seven-business-days window.”

Brittany also recommended that agencies encourage and guide their team to innovate and adapt. A project’s scope is going to creep at some point; many clients will try to get you to do more with fewer resources. To face this reality, “You have to look internally and look at the teams that you work with and say, ‘Okay, what can we change? How can we pivot? Where can we streamline?’” she stated.

This may involve reviewing and changing your processes if you find common hurdles that come up and “developing systems to try to smooth them out before your next project launches,” Brittany added. “That way, you’re continuously optimizing your efficiencies, which helps offset some of that scope creep.”

6. Deliver Data-Backed, Outcome-Driven Strategies

“Provide well-thought-out, data-backed strategies that deliver to a business objective, not just a media objective,” EZ said.

How can you do this? “Understand the client’s needs and how we can meet them in a rapidly evolving privacy landscape,” Scott said. “Recognize how an agency can help the brand meet their goals, not just sell in a cookie-cutter plan.”

It’s All About Identifying What Your Clients Truly Want

To do so, uncover what your clients’ outcomes and desires really are — ideally before they become a client (hence the purpose of the discovery meetings) — and what they want marketing to achieve for them. Then, make your plan from there.

“Once we have those goals in mind, we actually should work backwards and start thinking about what are the lower-funnel metrics that indicate we’re moving towards those goals,” Scott said. “What mid-funnel metrics are moving people into that decision? And then from an upper-funnel metrics perspective, how are we informing that kind of journey, or that precision that goes throughout?”

Grab a copy of our measurement framework for more information.

7. Constantly Bring Your Clients New Ideas

“Clients seek partners they can rely on, making it essential to consistently provide valuable insights, keep them informed about industry trends, and demonstrate genuine care for their success,” Katie Gresl, a senior director of client experience at Goodway, advised. “The way that I retain clients is always being a step or two ahead of anticipating needs and delivering solutions before they’re requested.”

“Bring your advertiser something that is innovative and fresh that cannot be easily replicated or executed by another partner. Your thought leadership and expertise shouldn’t be a commodity,” EZ added.

“Be consultative,” Amy suggested. “Share research or an article relevant to the client’s business, even if it is outside your scope of work. It goes a long way to show a client you are thinking about their business in a broader scope.”

James Arnold, the chief digital officer at Rooster, described the innovations you want to deliver to clients as “Surprise and delights that are meaningful, not standard.”

“You can’t sit back, take orders and expect to retain the business,” Daniel said. “Bringing new things to the table goes back to client acquisition and expansion — an easy way to get new business from current clients.”

8. Continually Seek Client Feedback

How do you know how your clients are feeling about the work you’re providing? Simple: Ask them.

“Our strategic account management process ensures that we send regular touchpoints across all key client stakeholders, from the doers to the agency leaders,” said Rachel Pakzadeh, a Goodway senior director of client experience. “And within that process, we have several different ways of getting client feedback and moving them from ‘like’ to ‘love’ and keeping them at ‘love.’ That’s another very important thing.

“Quarterly, we send out Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys,” she continued. “It’s just one question: ‘How likely are you to recommend Goodway Group to a friend or colleague?’ And our clients can rate us from a zero to a ten. It’s a quick snapshot of how they’re feeling in that quarter. They do have the opportunity to also add context via comments, but it’s just a one-shot question.”

But you may want to consider not just relying on NPS scores. For example, Rachel’s team has a specialized survey they send out twice per year. In that survey, they ask their clients to rank the top five attributes that are most important to them in a partner.

“We have a multitude of attributes that we give them as choices, like quality of deliverables, meeting deadlines, foresight, responsiveness, etc.,” she said. “So, by having them rank their top five tells us what’s important to them and what we need to be focusing on. And then within each category, they rank how we’re currently doing.

“You need to have those open and honest conversations and frequently ask for that real-time feedback,” Rachel explained. “Ask: ‘How did we do? Where could we do better? Were you disappointed with anything in the deliverables or the services that we’re providing? What’s the next step to our partnership?’

“Make sure that you’re taking the time to plan out those regular touchpoints, holding yourself to them and taking all of the feedback through NPS surveys, conversations, etc., and making a plan for the future relationship,” she concluded. “I don’t think there’s one magic bullet. You’ve got to use a combination of all of them.”

9. Build the Right Team

“Building a quality team is crucial for delivering high-quality results to clients and for maintaining a low turnover rate,” Ryan said. He explained some of the strategies they implemented at Empathy First Media to achieve this:

  • Focusing on cultural fit instead of pure skillset: “We focus not only on the technical skills of potential employees but also on how well they fit with our company culture,” he said. “Employees who resonate with our values, work ethic, and team dynamics are more likely to stay and contribute positively.”
  • Providing incentives: “Providing clear incentives and progression opportunities within the agency helps team members believe in the mission,” Ryan stated. “This includes bonuses, commissions, promotions, role expansions, and leadership opportunities.”

EZ expanded on this topic. “As an agency, you have to walk the talk and go beyond simple lip service,” she explained. “You could say upfront in your hiring process that your future employees will get internal development opportunities, but is it actually built into their day that they have the time and resources to actually go do this? What’s really important when you’re the manager is to create the space that allows for that growth to happen.”

Intentionally build time and space for your team to learn, develop and grow. This will help you not only attract quality talent, but retain them — and retain your clients in the process as they won’t have multiple points of contact.

Look Outside Instead of in if It Makes Sense for Your Business

What happens if you’re still having issues finding, keeping and retaining staff? Consider outsourcing some of your activities and working with an outside partner to round out your service offerings.

“Sometimes you may need to get creative and have those really tough conversations about what you do in-house,” EZ explained. “Can you get a freelancer or another partner? Gone are the days where the gut is to go, ‘Oh, well, there’s a gap; let’s just go hire for this person.’ Maybe it’s something that’s a non-traditional solution.”

10. Follow the Three-Wide, Three-Deep Philosophy

Have you ever had your primary client champion leave? It’s not uncommon for agencies to lose business altogether when new leaders come in and look to start afresh. So, what can you do if this happens?

Dave and his team follow a “three-wide, three-deep philosophy” where “you make sure that your primary contact is taken care of, but you also to stay in touch with the person above them and the person below them, and so on,” he explained. This sales philosophy involves knowing who your primary contact is, but also the two people who work adjacent to them, who they report to and who reports to them.

Pro Tip: Job Changes Can Be a Goldmine for Referrals

This can even help with acquiring new business. If you maintain relationships with a client contact after they leave or change positions, they may recommend you if a new opportunity arises. “Maintain those relationships, but nurture those relationships, too, with the expectation that no matter the longevity you have with a client, people move around,” Dave said.

Taking care of client contacts can include assisting people find new roles. “Helping those clients find their next home is also a great way of pretty much ensuring that you’re at least going to be considered for the new opportunity when that day comes,” Dave stated. “We’re in a relationship business, and that’s what it’s about — helping each other and looking out and finding those opportunities for them.”

11. Help Your Clients Navigate Identity Testing for a Cookieless Future

Third-party cookie deprecation may have been delayed (yet again) by Google to 2025, but that doesn’t mean you should sit back and wait until next year to start preparing.

When third-party cookies are finally deprecated, the old approaches to identity, targeting and measurement will no longer be feasible. Many brands have frantically turned to their agencies for help in this area — it’s a complex situation with no easy solution. Helping your clients test cookieless alternatives is one way to demonstrate your expertise and solidify your relationship with them as a true partner, which will make them want to continue working with you.

How do you do this? “First, assess the impact of cookie deprecation for your clients,” said Alex Bloore, the vice president of product and data at Goodway Group. “Look into their first-party data. Are they collecting it? How clean is it? Can you access it and use it?” Afterward, develop a measurement framework for testing and for after cookies go away.

Then, set up a cross-functional task force. Next, test multiple solutions at once such as clean rooms, contextual targeting and key Google Privacy Sandbox APIs. This is an important distinction and where some agencies (and brands) are falling short. Some are already doing testing, but just using a deterministic ID provider like The Trade Desk’s Unified ID Solution 2.0 (UID2) and LiveRamp ATS. Deterministic providers won’t be a 1:1 solution for third-party cookies. You’ll need various options besides deterministic providers including probabilistic solutions such as media mix modeling (MMM).

For more insights, check out Alex’s no-bull strategies for thriving in marketing’s new era.

12. Offering Programmatic Media? Establish Protocols To Eliminate Ad Waste

Ad fraud prevalence has made recent headlines — and for good reason. According to a 2023 ANA report, 15% of money spent on audited campaigns was on made-for-advertising (MFA) sites. This was echoed in a 2024 report by Adalytics, which found that hundreds of major advertisers place ads on MFA sites without knowing it. Meanwhile, our own research with FouAnalytics revealed that $20 billion of advertisers’ budgets are lost to ad fraud and MFAs. And in April 2024, Adalytics showed that ads placed on Forbes were actually placed on an MFA subdomain,

Because of all the ad fraud and waste reports that have made headlines, brands and agencies alike are shining the light on the issue and evaluating vendors and suppliers with more scrutiny. As such, your clients may very likely be concerned about this as well — after all, they expect you to manage their media efficiently. So, a key way to maintain that client relationship is to stay ahead of the game as much as possible.

“With the reality that many advertisers have unwittingly placed ads on MFAs — and with clients repeatedly expecting agencies to do more with less and having higher expectations than ever — it’s of the utmost importance to put processes in place to eliminate ad waste and fraud,” said Stephani Estes, the chief media officer at Goodway Group.

If you have an in-house programmatic media function, this means implementing procedures yourself. And if you’re working with an outside partner for programmatic media, look for one who has a definitive plan to help your clients avoid this — and a proven track record of pursuing programmatic excellence and transparency. For more information and guidelines, grab a copy of our white paper, “ONCE AND FOR ALL.”

Mastering Client Retention: A Pathway to Agency Success

The road to client retention is paved with a multitude of strategies, from robust discovery meetings and strong client relationships to delivering data-backed strategies and seeking continuous feedback. Agencies must prioritize trust-building, frequent communication and scope creep management while continuously bringing fresh ideas and innovations to the table.

Assembling the right team, following the three-wide, three-deep philosophy, and helping clients navigate the cookieless future are also crucial. For those offering programmatic media, establishing protocols to eliminate ad waste is paramount.

By embracing these 12 client retention tips, agencies can solidify their partnerships, foster loyalty, and demonstrate their value as indispensable partners. In an ever-evolving landscape, those who prioritize client satisfaction and proactively address their clients’ needs will emerge as industry leaders, setting the stage for long-term success and growth.

For more resources to power your agency, check out these guides:

Michelle Philippon headshot

Michelle Philippon is a content marketing manager at Goodway Group. A creative and results-driven marketer with a record for producing captivating content, Michelle loves working with Goodway’s internal subject matter experts (SMEs) to provide useful insights to help agencies power their marketing campaigns to achieve meaningful outcomes. Michelle has over 10 years of experience writing for both business and consumer audiences and previously worked at a B2B marketing agency. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where she enjoys reading, hiking through Cleveland’s many metroparks, making jewelry from sea glass and drinking way too much coffee.