How to weather client-side regime changes—build a moat
How to weather client-side regime changes—build a moat

By on in Agency Life & Leadership

How to weather client-side regime changes—build a moat

It’s a story familiar to anyone on the agency side—the client hires a new marketing manager and the next thing you know, you’re invited to repitch the business. You can’t fault the new manager. It’s human nature to want to work with a team you’ve chosen based on your vision for the brand. You want to put your own mark on things. You want to do something tangible, and maybe you were brought in to make changes. It’s just a fact of the business.

But a new marketing leader or team doesn’t have to be a relationship ender. At FATFREE, many of our clients have been with us through multiple reshuffles and new hires. How have we survived the changes? By building a deep, wide moat around the business.


A moat can be built completely on positives. In our case, we build strong relationships by embedding ourselves in our clients’ businesses. We get to know the intricacies of their products and vision as well as the nuts and bolts of presenting themselves to the world.

The idea of a “moat” is often used in investing circles to describe a company’s ability to maintain a competitive advantage. An economic moat, just like a moat around a castle or fortress, describes a protective barrier—characteristics that make it difficult for customers or the industry to look elsewhere. A moat can be built completely on positives. In our case, we build durable relationships by embedding ourselves in our clients’ businesses. We get to know the intricacies of their products and vision as well as the nuts and bolts of presenting themselves to the world.

For example, as marketing and customer engagement teams have gotten smaller, and complex digital platforms have eclipsed most other communication channels, we’ve found that we often understand clients’ technology platforms better than they do themselves. We know why decisions were made, where they’ve been and where they can go with their investments. While our clients know that we would bend over backward to onboard a new team, there’s huge value in sticking with a team that really gets it.

Similarly, because many of our clients are in heavily regulated industries such as insurance, medical devices and law, we internalize regulatory and legal requirements, approval processes, and communication preferences, so clients don’t need to let us know what can or cannot be done. We’re happy to make envelope-pushing suggestions, but we only need to scale the learning curve one time.

Perhaps most important, however, is the way we focus on relationships. For me, this wasn’t always easy. I tend to put my head down and do the work, often finding myself most productive far outside normal business hours. I’ve learned, though, that being a partner who gets to know everyone on the team and who brings new ideas to the table makes our team harder to replace. So when a new client comes on board, I reach out. We sit down and review the relationship to date and share our overall capabilities. And we make it clear that we’re open to a new way of doing things.

Think about it—when someone is new on the job, they’ve got a lot on their plate. They may hear about us as the people who “manage the customer email program,” “create videos” or “handle ecommerce,” and that label is likely to stick. The best way to break out of that box is to demonstrate, early and transparently, what else we can accomplish for them, and how our knowledge of their business can make their lives easier. We don’t wait for a time-consuming, expensive pitch to do it.

As it turns out, changes in client management often have a silver lining. The same characteristics that keep us connected as new leaders come on the scene also lead to new opportunities as past contacts find themselves in new positions or at new companies.