Evolving Your Agency Structure

Apr 22, 2024

As a PR, digital, or marketing agency scales, the role of a Director of Client Service becomes increasingly vital. 

This position not only facilitates a founder’s first 'exit' from daily client work, allowing them to focus on growth and strategy, but it also plays a crucial role in:

  • Client retention and satisfaction
  • Overseeing teams
  • Smooth transitions from sales to service
  • Protecting project scopes 
  • Organic growth opportunities 

…and much more. 

In this blog entry, we’ll explore the significance of this role, how it can transform your agency structure, and how to set up a Director of Client Service to succeed from the very beginning.

What to Look for in a Candidate 

Hiring the right person for a Director of Client Service role is essential for an agency's success. This role demands a unique blend of skills and experiences to manage client relationships effectively and drive business growth. 

Here’s a high-level breakdown of the qualifications, experiences, and personal attributes we typically recommend that agencies look for. 

  1. Extensive Experience in Client Services: The right candidate will have a robust background in client services, ideally within an agency environment. Look for someone who has progressed through increasing levels of responsibility, either in account management or relevant subject matter expertise. This experience helps ensure they understand the nuances of client needs and can manage client expectations effectively, which we all know is critical to the overall success of any firm.
  2. Understanding of the Agency Model: Candidates must be intimately familiar with how marketing agencies operate, including the dynamics of project management, the importance of client retention, and the pressure of meeting campaign goals. Ideally, this understanding comes from first-hand experience navigating agency challenges. If you hire a candidate without a specific agency background, expect to spend ample time during onboarding training them, and providing oversight for the first several months to ensure confidence in their ability to make sound decisions.
  3. Strong Leadership Skills: Since the Director of Client Service will typically oversee the client service team, strong leadership skills are non-negotiable. They should have a proven track record of managing and motivating teams, resolving conflicts, and driving team performance toward meeting client KPIs and company goals.
  4. Sales and Business Development Acumen: In addition to client management, a knack for or interest in sales and business development is beneficial. Experience in these areas means the candidate can not only maintain relationships but also expand them through strategic upselling and cross-selling to increase the agency’s revenue.
  5. Project Management Proficiency: Effective project management is key to delivering client work on time and within budget. Candidates should demonstrate the ability to oversee multiple projects simultaneously, streamline operations, and maintain high standards of quality and efficiency across the team.
  6. Exceptional Communication Skills: This role involves communicating with varied stakeholders including clients, team members, and agency executives. The ability to communicate clearly, persuasively, and tactfully is essential. They should be adept at negotiating, presenting, and reporting in a way that is both professional and easily understandable by various audiences.
  7. Problem-Solving Capabilities: As we all know, unexpected challenges often arise in client services. The person in this role should be able to think on their feet and quickly recommend effective solutions. They should also anticipate potential issues and address them proactively to prevent client dissatisfaction.

Beyond their tangible skills, it’s also vital to ensure the Director of Client Service is a cultural fit for the agency. They should share the company’s values, work ethic, and vision for the future. This is important for every role, but critically so for the Director of Client Service, who will manage teams and client relationships and drive forward momentum towards high-impact agency goals.

Key Responsibilities of a Director of Client Service

As we’ve already discussed, the role of a Director of Client Service is multifaceted and central to an agency's success. This position requires a blend of strategic oversight and hands-on management to ensure client satisfaction and agency growth. Here’s an expanded look at the top responsibilities that a Director of Client Service typically holds within a PR, marketing, or digital agency.

  1. Client Retention and Relationship Management: A primary responsibility is to maintain and deepen existing client relationships. This involves regular communication, understanding client needs, and ensuring their satisfaction with the services provided. The Director of Client Service should be adept at recognizing client concerns or dissatisfaction early and addressing these issues promptly to prevent churn.
  2. Overseeing Client Deliverables: It’s critical that all client projects are delivered on time, within budget, and to the client’s satisfaction. The Director of Client Service plays a key role in this by managing timelines, overseeing project teams, and ensuring that deliverables meet quality standards. They should foster a high-performance culture where deadlines are respected and deliverables consistently meet or exceed expectations.
  3. Team Leadership and Development: As a leader within the agency, this role is usually responsible for hiring, training, and mentoring a team of direct reports. This includes developing their skills in client management, conflict resolution, and strategic thinking. The director should create a supportive and collaborative environment that empowers team members to take initiative and excel in their roles.
  4. Strategic Account Management: The director should not only manage day-to-day operations but also think strategically about each client account. This involves identifying opportunities for upselling and cross-selling services that align with the client's evolving needs, driving increased revenue for the agency. They may not be responsible for the day-to-day oversight of every account, but they should have consistent and proactive check-ins with the team so this bigger-picture thinking is delivered to clients at the right time.
  5. Metrics and Performance Tracking: This role requires setting and tracking KPIs for client satisfaction, retention, and account growth. The Director of Client Service should help the team use data-driven insights to refine strategies and report on performance both to agency leadership and to clients.
  6. Process Improvement and Innovation: A priority responsibility is continuously seeking ways to improve client service processes. This could involve implementing new tools, refining communication channels, or developing new client engagement strategies. The director should be proactive in leading initiatives that enhance efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery.
  7. Financial Management: Understanding the financial implications of client projects is crucial. The Director of Client Service should work closely with the leadership team or finance department to set budgets, monitor expenditures, and ensure account profitability. This requires a good grasp of financial principles and the ability to align client work with the firm’s financial goals.
  8. Crisis Management and Problem Resolution: The director must handle client crises and conflicts as they arise to maintain trust and satisfaction. This requires excellent problem-solving skills and the ability to make quick decisions under pressure. 
  9. Quality Assurance: The director usually oversees the quality of all client interactions and deliverables to ensure they meet the high standards expected by both the agency and its clients. This involves reviewing major deliverables, key communications, and other important documents before they are sent to the client.

By effectively managing these responsibilities, the Director of Client Service plays a pivotal role in driving the agency’s success, enhancing client satisfaction, and ultimately contributing to the agency's growth and profitability. This position is not just about managing tasks but about leading with vision and strategic insight.

Setting Up Your Agency Structure for Success 

Ensuring that a Director of Client Service can effectively manage their responsibilities and excel in their role requires a strong agency structure built on a scalable financial model, well-defined services, and an appropriate staffing model. Here's how to set up these three must-have elements to support the success of a Director of Client Service.

1. Scalable Financial Model:

      • Clear Understanding of Financial Health: Begin by ensuring that your Director of Client Service has a thorough understanding of the agency’s financial health. This includes familiarity with the profit margins of various service offerings and the impact of client projects on the agency’s overall financial performance.
      • Budget Management Training: Equip them with the skills and tools needed to manage budgets effectively. This involves training in financial forecasting, budget allocation, and financial decision-making that aligns with the agency's growth targets.
      • Incentive Structures: Implement incentive structures that align the director’s objectives with the agency's financial goals. For example, bonuses tied to client retention rates and project profitability can motivate optimal financial management practices.
      • Regular Financial Reviews: Establish a routine for regular financial reviews with the director, allowing for adjustments in strategies or operations to better meet goals. This keeps the financial model adaptable and responsive to changing market conditions. 

2. Defined Services:

      • Service Catalog Development: Develop a detailed catalog of services that the agency offers. This should include clear descriptions, deliverables, pricing models, and client success metrics for each offering.
      • Alignment with Market Needs: Ensure that the services are aligned with market demand and client expectations. Regularly review and adjust service offerings based on client feedback and market trends to maintain relevance and competitiveness.
      • Training on Service Offerings: Provide comprehensive training for the director on all service offerings, focusing on each one's unique selling proposition and benefits. This knowledge is paramount for effectively selling services to clients and managing service delivery teams.


3. Staffing Model:

      • Assessment of Current Resources: Work with the director to assess the current staffing model, evaluating if the team’s size, skills, and roles align with the agency's operational and service delivery needs.
      • Strategic Hiring Plans: Develop hiring plans that address gaps in the team’s capabilities and prepare for future growth. This might involve hiring specialists for new services or additional account managers to support increased client loads.
      • Development and Training Programs: Implement ongoing professional development and training programs that enhance the team’s skills and ensure they are capable of delivering high-quality service. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement and adaptation.
      • Performance Management Systems: Establish clear performance metrics and regular review processes to monitor and guide the team’s performance. This ensures that the staffing model remains effective and can evolve with the agency’s needs. 

By focusing on these foundational elements, the agency creates an environment where a Director of Client Service can thrive. A dependable financial model provides the framework for profitable operations, clearly defined services ensure consistency and quality in client engagements, and an appropriate staffing model supports efficient and effective service delivery. Together, these elements form the backbone of a successful client service strategy that drives agency growth and client satisfaction. 

How We Can Help

Implementing a Director of Client Service role is a significant step for any growing agency. This role not only enhances client satisfaction and retention but also empowers agency founders to focus on broader business objectives. With the right preparation and support, a Director of Client Service can become a pivotal element in an agency's success story. 

At Advocation, we specialize in both training new Directors of Client Service and stepping in on a fractional basis to provide transitional support, parental leave coverage, or bridge gaps during recruitment. Our approach involves:

  • Customized Training: Tailored to your agency's specific needs to ensure a director is set up to succeed 
  • Operational Structuring: Assistance in refining your agency structure, financial model, and service offerings for optimal performance
  • Fractional Support: Providing experienced professionals to temporarily fill the director role, ensuring continuity and stability

If your agency is navigating growth challenges or you're considering introducing a Director of Client Service role, reach out to us. We're here to help elevate your agency's client service capabilities to the next level.

If you’d like to learn more from the Advocation team on best practices for PR & marketing agency teams, follow us on social media–InstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube.