Agency pros need the L-factor now more than ever
They don’t teach it at university. They don’t teach it in the post-grad certificate programs. They don’t even teach it when you join an agency. In fact, you can’t really teach it at all. Rather, you tend to acquire it quite early in life. For me, I think I unwittingly developed it as a kid while passing Hors D’oeuvres at my parents’ dinner parties. Yet your success as an agency professional, and often the success of your agency, turns on it. “Likeability,” or if you prefer the trendy jargon, the L-factor.
I know what you’re thinking. What about clarity of thought? The ability to write well? Attention to detail? Flawless execution? Experience with all the new and emerging tools of our trade? Aren’t they important in agency life? Of course they are. I’d be an idiot to suggest otherwise. To make it in the agency world, of course you need to be a strategic thinker, an outstanding writer, a consummate multitasker, an executional savant, and do it all on time and on budget, while mentoring your team, and making sure there’s milk in the fridge for coffee. That goes without saying. But in a competitive pitch, the agencies against which you’re competing also have a team of people who excel on all of these fronts. What’s a client to do to decide on a winner?
More often than not, when other factors are essentially equal, clients choose the agency with the best chemistry, the best fit. They choose to work with the people they’re going to enjoy working with. They choose really smart people who also tend to be nice, kind, and, yes, likeable. They choose people with whom they can foresee rolling up their sleeves and spending hours working on an issue, and enjoying it, too. In a way, it’s human nature. We want to work with nice people. We want to work with people we like.
In 2006, Tim Sanders authored a book called The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams. On the surface, the book’s premise seems like a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but it goes deeper. Sanders posits that there are four personality traits that constitute a person’s likeability: friendliness, relevance (e.g. do you have similar interests or needs), empathy, and “realness” (e.g. are you authentic or just acting). These factors make sense to me. Sanders goes on to remind readers that however naturally likeability comes to some people, it can actually be cultivated. If you understand the contributing elements, and didn’t spend your youth passing Hors D’oeuvres at your parents’ dinner parties, you can work on your L-factor.
Are all clients looking for a high L-factor? No. Some clients don’t care much about the personalities and chemistry of their team as long as they get results. But my experience is that this scenario arises less frequently. Most clients I’ve encountered over 28 years in the agency game weigh, subconsciously or not, whether they “like” their agency team before signing on with them.
In this age of many screens and countless social channels, it’s easier than ever to engage with people without ever meeting them, without ever deciding whether you like them or not. We would be wise to remember in the agency world, that we remain in the personal relationship business. We give advice, carefully conceived, thoughtfully delivered. Assuming the services we provide are top notch, building and sustaining personal relationships with clients is how we ensure a long life for the account. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, it may be the only thing that distinguishes us from all the rest.
In the end, you might be the most strategic thinker in the room. You might be the best writer. You might have concocted a brilliant program that puts check marks in all your client’s boxes. You might have done all of this on a budget that fits. But that’s not always enough. Sometimes winning the business comes down to what Sally Field once famously said upon winning an Oscar: “You like me. You really like me.”