Relationships that last Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

Len Dugow wonders about your closet’s future contents.

OK, not really. But the president and creative director of LGD Communications wonders how consumers will spend after the recession. Maybe 20 pairs of jeans won’t be in their budgets — but he wants to make sure his advertising, marketing and branding services will be.

“We’re talking to them about today’s needs as well as planning six months and a year out,” says Dugow, who has about 22 employees. “It’s a constant conversation going out to your clients and making sure that you’re part of the discussion.”

To stay relevant, he focuses on the value that he brings to relationships.

“If you’re only going to scream price, then a prospective buyer is only going to respond to the lowest price,” says Dugow, whose company billed $11.5 million in 2008. “I talk about parallel messaging to make sure that while we’re talking about the deal, we’re also interweaving the appeal or what makes the brand special.”

Smart Business spoke to Dugow about building relationships to stay in clients’ long-term plans.

Approach clients with value. You have to walk into the room with a [curriculum vitae] that says, ‘I have been in the wars, I have survived them, and I have helped a good number of companies survive and, in many cases, thrive.’

But because these [economic] times are unprecedented, things that may have worked in the early ’90s won’t necessarily work today. So you have to take some of the lessons of the past and you have to represent in a fresh and exciting way. It can’t feel old and tired, especially in such a competitive marketplace. It’s just a question of making sure you isolate and spotlight certain brand benefits that otherwise may have either been forgotten or you assume everybody knows.

Get on the same page. Part of the psychology of this is moving from one side of the desk to the other. It’s no longer you the client and me the agency; it’s we. We need to really be working hand-in-glove with the solution.

I may come up with it by myself, but if it’s done jointly, it’ll have more staying power and, of course, the client has ownership of it, as well. When a client has ownership of a strategy, it always gathers a greater momentum. If you bring the client to your side of the table and work from the ‘we’ point of view, the momentum can be supercharged. You want him to be emotionally connected to the process and, obviously, to the solution because if he has nothing invested in it, there’s a good chance it’s not going to move forward.

Generally when we get a new piece of business, we let them know how we work. We say that [these are] the steps and it’s worked very well for us. We want to make sure that the client understands, in terms of LGD’s methodology, how we take a client through a response to an objective.

Part of our challenge is to make sure that we have a really good [understanding] in terms of defining expectations, how we measure the expectations and trying to figure out — in concert with the new client — the way that they like to work. How much of this is going to be by meetings in person? Is this doable from videoconferencing? Is this hands-on? Is this, ‘Please come back in a week and share where you are,’ or, ‘Come back after three or four days because I want to be part of the brainstorming session?’

Everybody has to be on the same page as to what the objectives are. We have to document that. The client and the agency both have to agree in the very early stages: This is what the objectives are, and this is the game plan. You have to make sure that you and the client are talking the same language.

Bringing the client into the process really gets vetted in the first month or so of conversation. You’re looking to find out what makes him tick within the sense of business and the kinds of things he’s going to respond to, yet knowing full well that he’s compensating you to come up with something different.

Sometimes you have to be as much of a therapist as you do anything. You constantly are trying to pose leading questions, what-if kinds of suggestions. You’re also trying to put across the idea that together we are going to figure out this solution. You always want a client to feel that it is of great importance that we get it and we get it right.

Communicate consistently. Silence is really, really deadly. A constant back-and-forth is always welcome — and I don’t mean just by me; I’m talking about any one of my people in the process, whether it’s an account manager or whatever. You want to make sure that the client is aware, on a regular basis, of what you’re doing.

I encourage my people to make sure that we give them progress reports on a twice-a-week basis: ‘This is where we are. We’re waiting on this from you; you’re waiting on this from us.’ It’s just a reminder of data and where we are in the process.

It’s just a question of transparency: ‘This is what we’re doing, this is where we are, [and] this is how we’re going to get it done.’ Transparency is a really important part of the equation because you can’t BS that.

I consider myself a no-nonsense kind of individual, meaning I never overstate our successes and I never understate things that are not going well. So if we’ve stumbled in some way, I’m the first one to get on the phone and say, ‘This one just did not work,’ or, ‘We owe you for this.’

It also then gives me an opportunity to sense where other opportunities for additional business are. With this couple-times-a-week, back-and-forth [reporting process] on tasks, [we hear back], ‘Oh, and then we need to do this,’ and, ‘Oh, we need to start this new initiative for this new campaign.’ So part of that communication is also about listening for where the additional business lies.

How to reach: LGD Communications, (305) 576-9400 or