Getting clients to go big—especially on social—remains a Sisyphean task. But if you’re consistently having trouble pushing your best ideas forward, maybe it’s time to take a look at yourself.

With some self-reflection, you and your team can take the corrective action needed to start securing client buy-in for your high-risk but high-reward social campaigns (the ones you’ve tucked away in file folders for years).

To help with that process, we asked four agency leaders for their time-tested methods of getting movement on their most out-there creative concepts. Follow the advice of the agencies below, and your next pitch is sure to be a hit.


Get to Know Your Client

It all starts with understanding the brand’s voice, goals and pain points. As CEO Vicki Bohlsen of the Bohlsen Group says, your creative social strategy must align with the client’s most immediate business objectives.

“Just because an idea has a ‘wow’ factor doesn’t mean it’s good, as a campaign is only as good as how brand centric it is,” Bohlsen said.

With that in mind, the Bohlsen Group conducts interviews to understand how receptive the client will be and whether the proposed social campaign will meet the brand’s goals.

Sell Your Skills & Expertise

Trust should be the foundation of any agency-client relationship. All our experts agreed that this is the crux of getting clients to step outside of their comfort zones.

“For a new client, there’s typically a lack of trust at the beginning of the relationship,” Bohlsen said. “They don’t know us, and we don’t know everything about them yet. We have to build it so the clients feel comfortable implementing a high-risk campaign.”

This isn’t the time to hold back either. If you have a history of big social wins, make sure your client knows about them. After all, they are investing a considerable amount of time and money into your services.

“We use our past success to ease fear,” WebDiner CEO Matt Harper said. “Also, two words we train clients to listen to: ‘Trust us.’”

When clients see what’s in your roster—backed by metrics-driven objectives—they will have an easier time opening up and seeing your vision.


Set the Right Tone

Not every business will want to go to the cutting edge with you, so it’s important to gauge a client’s comfort level right from the start.

“I’d say about 50% of clients are looking for innovation,” said Tom Geary, Founder and Creative Director of School of Thought. “Too bad. It should be more.”

Harper echoed this experience.

“Clients rarely come into a meeting requesting something original,” he said, chalking that up to “lack of understanding your customer—what they want—and lack of understanding what is possible with technology and art.”

So, rather than setting a high-octane tone across all brands, Harper’s agency adjusts to clients’ attitudes.

“My sales team and project managers don’t push too hard if the client is uneasy and doesn’t understand the benefit to expanding their marketing comfort zone,” he said. “We have plenty of clients who do understand and want to jump in with both feet. When those timid clients are ready, we will be ready to help.”

Still, that doesn’t mean you should save your best social ideas for the most adventurous clients, Geary says.

“Never present ideas that aren’t going to move the needle,” he said. “That safe, predictable campaign, when it’s produced and generating little to no return, you will absolutely regret including in the mix.”


Ask Questions on the Front End

Harper’s team at WebDiner does plenty of legwork before ever making the client pitch, thus making the entire process much smoother.

“We don’t ask a question or present an idea that we don’t already know the answer to and/or their reaction,” Harper said.

WebDiner also is conscious of the final audience as well as the client.

“Zero in on the end customer,” Harper said. “Age, gender, personality, spending habits and expectation are all important in crafting the most impactful marketing campaign.”

Bohlsen’s team takes a similar approach of investigating the brand’s history for guidance on the pitch.

“At the end of the day, we’re providing a solution to an existing issue,” Bohlsen said. “The idea and the visual may be great, but if it doesn’t drive the result your client is seeking, it’s not effective. Ask questions and understand what the problem is so you can create the best solution.”

Geary agreed that nothing will happen without an understanding of goals, especially with a high-risk social idea.

“We always try to start by getting people to focus on the goals by defining success,” he said. “If awareness and engagement and pass-along are critical to getting them there, safe isn’t going to do it.”

Involve Your Client as Much as Possible

Casey Fisk, Content Strategist at boogie, said that many of her agency’s big successes happen when the client is brought into the brainstorming sessions.

“Get the client in a creative atmosphere where big ideas are flying around the room,” she said. “Get clients’ ideas into the mix; they know their brand the best, so their perspective will be golden.”

This will ensure that clients feel their voices are being heard. Then, when it comes time to make the pitch, they will have more of an investment in your big ideas.

“Clients feed off your energy,” Fisk said.

Bringing good energy into the meeting can help the client feel good about your entire presentation and get them to see your way of thinking, even on a potentially risky idea.

“It’s always a transparent conversation, and our clients know we’re willing and able to amend and revise strategy based on their preferences, what’s best for business and our expert opinion,” Fisk said. “Don’t try to be a swindler.”


Think Like an Executive

While concerns over budget might seem like the most pressing matter—especially when risk-taking is involved—our experts unanimously agreed that fear of the unknown is the biggest stumbling block.

“People have this perception that social media is some new, untested phenomena,” Geary said. “It’s not. It’s about creating content that is compelling enough to make people want to share it.”

That’s not to say nobody will ask you about money.

“Most executives are concerned with exact data and ROI of a strategy, so our goal when introducing a new idea that may get pushback is to dispel any uncertainty by providing proof of concepts and data/research to back up our pitch,” Fisk said.

Arm Yourself With a Backup Plan

A high-risk social campaign will likely spark worries about public reaction. In one instance, the Bohlsen Group led a project for Conquor Paralysis Now with a social campaign called “I Can’t Stand.” The goal was to educate the public on the realities of spinal cord injuries and paralysis, including sharing unsettling images and text that conveyed the frustration of being unable to move. This was a challenging topic that could make people uncomfortable.

I Can't Stand Sex

“We understood the ‘I Can’t Stand’ images would start an unsettling dialogue about what it really means to be paralyzed,” Bohlsen said. “We knew there would be initial pushback and not every response would be positive.”

But Bohlsen’s team understood that realistic depictions of paralysis were crucial to achieving the client’s goals.

“We did our research, anticipated what the negative reactions would be and built a crisis communication plan with responses designed to educate the public and further Conquer Paralysis Now’s exposure,” Bohlsen said. “The client felt comfortable launching the campaign because it was well planned and they knew we’d thought through every detail.”

The extra work and preparation paid off. Despite those initial concerns, “I Can’t Stand” generated a positive sentiment of 81%. More than 90% of its interactions were on brand and included the campaign hashtag.

“We did our research, anticipated what the negative reactions would be and built a crisis communication plan.”
—Vicki Bohlsen, The Bohlsen Group

Go Big or Go Home

The social world is a busy and crowded place, so standing out and getting a win will take big thinking from both your agency and your clients. Set the right tone, do your research and build trust—and you will deliver a campaign everyone can be proud of.