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Sharing your agency’s internal work product with clients

Agency clients often ask for things like media lists, Photoshop files, raw research, and access to internal software tools.

How much of this material should you be willing to share? How should you decide where to draw the line?

In this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, Chip and Gini pick up a question from the Spin Sucks Community to dive into this topic.

They started out with some degree of disagreement, but as usual ended up more in agreement than they first thought.

Key takeaways

Chip Griffin: “You need to be in a position where the client understands that you’re creating value well beyond that mere media list that you have.”

Gini Dietrich: “There have been multiple times where we have said goodbye to a client, and I thought I’m never going to hear from them again. And that’s just not the case.”

Chip Griffin: “I frequently see where an agency senses that the client is headed out the door and they start throwing up roadblocks to make the transition more difficult. Don’t do that. If a client wants to leave, you should not be throwing up roadblocks. You should be trying to figure out how to end the relationship gracefully.”

Gini Dietrich: “In 99.9% of the cases you’ll share the work product and they’ll go, oh…We don’t have the internal resources. Or we didn’t know it would take this much time or we didn’t have as much knowledge about this. We need you to handle it.”

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin

Gini Dietrich: and I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And today we’re going to try to disagree with each other all the way from start to finish. In this episode, we’re going to give it our best shot right after this.

So this is our second try recording this episode because the gremlins literally got into the microphones somehow. So we’re going to see how well we do here, but just one of those behind the scenes things I like to share with listeners. So they feel like they’re right here with us, even though we could have pretended that nothing had happened at all.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. Apparently there are gremlins in my microphone, so hopefully we’re ok.

Chip Griffin: Or in Streamyard, which we use to record, or, you know, maybe it was just in my own head. You just will never know. But what we’re going to talk about today is a conversation that took place in the Spin Sucks community. And Gini and I had some disagreement about it and it’s a topic that’s I think, near and dear to the hearts of particularly PR agencies.

But it’s something that all agencies confront, which is how much of your work product you should be sharing with clients. And it started with a conversation about sharing media lists with PR agency clients and what you do when your client asks for it. But I think it can be a broader conversation because agencies of all kinds get asked to share things like research or access to Google ad words accounts, or Photoshop files, instead of just finished graphic images.

All these kinds of things are issues that agencies need to deal with and they need to figure out where to draw the line.

Gini Dietrich: So here’s what I think is the difference between media lists and all those examples that you’ve given. So if you’re creating Photoshop files and you have raw photo files or images, you’ve created that for that client. You didn’t, it wasn’t a library or a depository that you created that you’re then loaning or lending out to the client.

You created it specifically for them. If you’ve created code for a website, you’ve created it specifically for that for the client. From a media list perspective, our media lists, at least in my agency, are 20 years of relationships and building on and crafting responses and using – like there’s somebody I work with at USA Today that I started working with at the beginning of my career, he has changed jobs several times.

He’s moved up the ranks several times. And today in his job, he would not take pitches from PR people, but he does for me because of the relationship I’ve had with him for 20 years. So for me to hand over that media list and go, go call him because at USA Today, like he would be furious with me for giving his information out to a client because I’ve spent 20 years crafting that.

And our media lists also include things like, they prefer to be called on their cell phone. Here’s their cell phone number, but they only give their cell phone number to certain people, or they prefer this email address to their work email address, because they know that they’re going to respond to that.

And they don’t actually ever open their work inbox because it’s filled with PR people. So handing that over to a client, I feel like is not the right approach because that’s our work product. It’s not something the client has paid for. What the client has paid for are our relationships and our ability to get results.

They have not paid for a list of people that we have built – we have spent 20 years building relationships with, and cell phone numbers and personal email addresses. They haven’t paid for that.

Chip Griffin: So I don’t necessarily disagree with you in the entirety there, unfortunately, but I do think that there are…So there are agencies that are like yours, where they’re trading primarily on existing relationships.

And there are agencies that use Cision or Muckrack or something like that. And they spit out media lists and they just reach out to whoever shows up on the list that looks good. So, to me, I think, you know what you’re describing, you have a stronger leg to stand on than one where you produced the media list for the client and they were not preexisting contacts. Right? If you dump a list out of Cision, you should absolutely be sharing that with the client because you created that for them. I think even in your case, I think, I think there are, and maybe you will disagree with this too, but I think that, that at a minimum, if they ask for that, you should share who you’ve been reaching out to.

Right. So, which is effectively a media list, but without their cell phone number or things like that. I mean, I think that providing name and outlet, whether its the reporter or the editor or the producer, whomever, so they know who you’re actually talking to. I think that’s fair game and I think should be provided to the client.

Now that’s not the same as providing, you know, all of the nitty-gritty contact information and notes and preferences and all of that. But I think that to just say straight up, no, isn’t really appropriate because now you’re, it feels like you’re trying to hide something from the client.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I agree with you.

And I will say that in the early days of my agency life, we did share that stuff. And, you know, I had spent several years at big agencies where I had built relationships with reporters and I had a client who was not a nice person. And he went behind my back and started calling those people. And I remember a friend of mine from the Wall Street Journal called and was like, what, what did you do?

And I was like, what are you talking about? And he’s like, this crazy person from this company keeps calling me and said you gave him my number. And I was like, oh no. So right then and there I said, we’re not going to do this again. So, absolutely. I agree with you. If you’re pumping out lists specifically for that client from MuckRack or Cision or whatever it happens to be, 100%.

I agree with you on giving them a list of media outlets and even names. Like we have a client who keeps saying call Bill King at Sports Business Journal. And we’re like Bill King’s not the person to call at Sports Business Journal, but he keeps saying, call them. And I’m like, hmm. So we keep having this conversation with him about who the right people are to call at Sports Business Journal, because it’s not the executive editor, it’s not the editor in chief.

Um, so I agree with that, but what I don’t agree with is all of the work product that you’ve created throughout your career. And just handing that over and say, this is, this is free for all. This is for everybody to use. That’s I don’t think that’s the case at all.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, look, I think there are absolutely lines to be drawn and the more personal the connection you have with someone, and the, the less…

and the more reluctant they are to share that information with third parties, then yes, you do need to be more careful. But I think that, you know, too many agencies would view it simply as I’m not even going to tell you the list of people we’ve contacted, right. Because that’s proprietary.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, no, we do that.

Chip Griffin: But I mean, I’ve come across agencies that won’t even do that. And I think that it’s, this is a challenge in other spaces, you know, I mentioned Photoshop files and access to ad words. These are two real-world examples that I’ve had with agencies when I’ve been on the client side, where agencies have denied me access to those.

Gini Dietrich: To ad words?! You’re paying for that.

Chip Griffin: Correct.

Gini Dietrich: Doesn’t make sense.

Chip Griffin: Correct. You know, their argument was that, well, they, you know, it’s for security reasons. They don’t want multiple people in the account. Yeah. It’s just not acceptable. If we’ve got an issue, give me read only access, you know? And really the, it was actually a case where I was technically a consultant for the client.

It was a really weird setup. So, really the solution was the client should have had their own ad words account and given access to the agency. But because they hadn’t done ad words before they had allowed it to be set up that way. And my suspicion as to why I was denied access was because I think they were pooling multiple clients in the same ad words account.

Gini Dietrich: I bet you’re right.

Chip Griffin: You know, because it was more convenient for them to do it that way.

Sure. But that’s a horrible practice to employ for all sorts of reasons. And so I suspect that’s why I was denied there. But the access to Photoshop files is a frequent thing that I’ve been denied by agencies over the years who are doing some kind of design work. And I, and to me, you know, putting on my client hat, I think that’s just nutty. Because I’ve paid for you to create this stuff. And the only reason to hold back access is because it forces me to go to you if I want any changes in the future. And I can’t use it as a template for something else. And that’s just, to me, that’s just wrong. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Yeah. And I, and I know that there are creatives who will listen to us and they will tell me that I am completely wrong.

And you know, it really it’s their underlying work product that they, you know, it’s proprietary the way they do the layers and all this kind of stuff. And, you know, no, sorry. I mean, I paid you to design this. I get it.

Gini Dietrich: Well, and I’ve paid for video, for you to take video. I’ve paid for you to take photos.

Like all of that raw file belongs to the client. It does not belong to the agency. They, you have been out, you have been hired to create that specifically for that client. And the same thing goes for the media list. If you’ve been hired specifically to create a trade media list for a B2B organization that you didn’t already, that didn’t already exist, then yeah.

That belongs to them. So we, in all of our plans, we have a list of media outlets and names that we’re going after. And truth be told it’s not hard for the client to figure it out. Cause once you start getting results, they’re going to go, oh, they talked to so-and-so at the New York Times because that’s who wrote the story.

Like it won’t be hard for them to figure that out. So where I have a problem is when I’ve spent 20 years building relationships and I have personal information for clients that I, or for reporters that I don’t think anybody should get to have access to.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, no. And, I think that is understandable because that is, it goes to your personal relationships that you have with them as opposed to something that you’ve done specifically on behalf of the client.

So I do think that there is a difference there, and I, you know, one of the things that came up, I think in the Spin Sucks community conversation about this was well, you know, I think that, you know, my client might be trying to replace us and take the work in house. They’ve got someone in there who’s, who’s talked about, you know, how they want to do more and more in house.

They’ve been cutting back on agencies. And if I give this to them, it’s going to make it easier for them to bring it in house. Okay. To me, that’s not a good reason.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I agree.

Chip Griffin: For two reasons. One is, if the list itself is what has the value and all of the other work that your agency does isn’t the value. Okay, well, that’s a problem. Right, because it should be more than just the list of names and outlets, even email address. Even if you had email address and phone number in there for all of them, you should still be bringing more to the table, than that itself. And if that’s what’s going to help you maintain the relationship, there’s something wrong with the relationship.

And so you need to be in a position where you’re – that the client understands that you’re creating value well beyond that mere data source, the media list that you have.

Gini Dietrich: Well, and honestly, and I think this goes for any work product, what will happen in 99.9% of the cases is you’ll share the work product and they’ll go, oh crap.

We don’t have the internal resources. Or we didn’t know it would take this much time or we didn’t have as much knowledge about this. We need you to handle it. So we may have the raw Photoshop files, but we didn’t know it was going to take 10 times longer for us to do it, then do you have you do it.

So we’re coming back to you, but the fact that you’ve shared those with us is going to make us want to come back versus you holding onto it and saying, no. Where like, as a client, I would be like, okay, well we’ll go find somebody else then. But I think it creates the opportunity for you to, for the client to go, oh, this isn’t as easy as it looks, especially from a media relations perspective. It’s not easy.

Chip Griffin: Exactly. And that, you know, that’s always been my philosophy is I will share as much as the client wants because they will typically see that whatever the task is, whether it’s media outreach or something else that it is a lot more difficult than they realized. If they, if they want to have access to the underlying computer code on a website that I built years ago, hey, have at it. Good luck. See if you can figure it out.

Gini Dietrich: Good luck, right.

Chip Griffin: I mean, it’s just… and so, you know, if you are, if you are withholding work product in order to try to hold the client hostage, that’s a problem. Because you may be able to hold on to the client for a little bit longer by holding back whatever it is, because they may feel dependent upon the media list or the design work or something like that.

But they’re going to grow to resent you if they haven’t already. And so that is not a good way to maintain the relationship. And I frequently see this where an agency either senses that the client is headed out the door or the client explicitly says, Hey, we’re, you know, we’re going to terminate the contract in 30, 60, 90 days, whatever it is.

And they start throwing up roadblocks to make the transition more difficult. Right. Don’t do that. If a client wants to leave, you should not be throwing up roadblocks. You should be trying to figure out how to end the relationship gracefully, because then you still have a chance potentially of winning that business back somewhere down the road, when they realize, Hey, we couldn’t do it in-house.

Hey, this other agency wasn’t everything that we thought they were going to be. Hey, you know, our priorities have changed again, and what you do is something we need. If you make it easy and convenient for them to make a switch when they want to do it, you’ll be in a much better position to have that opportunity, to have another stab at the business down the road.

But if you start throwing up roadblocks, if you make it difficult, if you sit there and say, no, I’m not giving this to you. No, I’m not training your in-house person. No, I’m not doing this or that. That only creates problems. It does not help you in the long run.

Gini Dietrich: And I will tell you from experience, there have been multiple times where we have said goodbye to a client, and I thought I’m never going to hear from them again.

And that’s just not the case. Sometimes they leave and go to another job and they are like, we loved working with you. Can we bring you into this company? Sometimes they’re like you said, their priorities shift again, and they want to bring you back. Years ago, we had a client say to me, we’ve decided to spend all of our marketing budget on inside sales and I was like, that’s kind of crummy, but, okay. So they moved all the budget to inside sales and a year and a half later after it didn’t work, they came back and said you were generating more leads than our inside sales team did. And they came back. So I think to your point, never burn a bridge, always keep relationships open, unless it’s your client that’s going behind your back and calling reporters when they shouldn’t be.

Chip Griffin: And clearly, it’s still eating at you all these years.

Gini Dietrich: I got into so much trouble! I had reporters being like, what the F did you do? And I was like, what are you talking about? Yeah, that’s what he did. So he’s not coming back ever. But for the most part, I would say that you have an opportunity to keep those relationships fresh and to keep the door open, always.

Chip Griffin: Well, and it’s, this is a great opportunity to once again, remind people that your agency doesn’t have relationships with organizations. It has them with other individuals. So, those people, they inevitably will go on to do something else in their careers. And so, you know, when your day-to-day contact Sally leaves that organization that you made it just ridiculously hard for them to leave you.

She goes on and become CMO at what’s your ideal client. You’re not going to get that business now, even though it’s your dream client. The company, you always wanted to be able to work for as an agency. But Sally’s going to remember that Chip was just a jerk when she tried to make a change in agencies. So don’t do it.

And so you need to, I would say to you this: if there are things that you have that you want to protect and that you know, you’re not going to turn over and it’s something that is periodically asked for from clients, make sure you set expectations from the get-go that that’s not something that you provide, right?

Don’t lead them on, don’t try to, you know, muddy the waters. Make sure it’s in your contract. If you’re not going to provide the Photoshop files or the underlying research or whatever those things are, make sure you just you’re clear about that because you know, then it doesn’t feel like you’re just throwing up an obstacle to be difficult.

It’s something that you’ve actually thought about and you can articulate hopefully a good reason to the client, why you are doing that. Right? If you can’t, that’s a problem.

Gini Dietrich: Well, unfortunately I don’t think we disagreed on this episode because…

Chip Griffin: It is unfortunate.

Gini Dietrich: we do agree. Yeah. We have to keep trying, we’re going to have to keep, I got to think of something good that we can disagree on.

Chip Griffin: One day, we are going to find a way to completely disagree, bare knuckles and something better than, you know, Cubs – Red Sox, because… that’s not enough.

Gini Dietrich: It’s not.

Chip Griffin: No. All right. Well, since we didn’t really disagree, we might as well draw this episode to a close. I’m Chip Griffin

Gini Dietrich: and I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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