After delivering a recent presentation, In-House Insights: 7 Opportunities for Internal Agencies, to a group of corporate marketers and creative communications professionals, one of the participants asked, “What is the right ratio of being reactive to clients versus being innovative and strategic?”

My answer was that I’m never a fan of being reactive to clients—though if the attendee was asking about being responsive to clients, I’m in favor of that 100% of the time. I went on to say that I don’t mean you should follow client directives 100% of the time. The goal is to arrive at a place of working with clients that’s more relational than it is reactive.

Clients will only respect your opinions and the work you do if you demonstrate deep understanding of their business. And by that, I mean the industry, products/services, audience segments, competitive environment, engagement strategies—all of it. You cannot be strategic or innovative or relevant without knowing the business as well as your clients do.

The added dimension you need to bring to the table as the in-house agency is equally deep understanding of the business of marketing communications. That’s how you deliver value to your clients—by having one plus one add up to more than two. When you can demonstrate mastery of your client’s business and mastery of your own business as an agency, you are much better positioned to influence client behaviors and decision making.

Does that mean your clients will stop telling you to change that photo of a dog to a cat in the ad you’re developing? No. What it does mean is that you’ll be better positioned to ask, “What is it about the dog that feels off strategy to you or like it may inhibit us from motivating the target? I’d like to understand the problem you’re try to solve as there may be other ideas worth considering.” If you don’t understand or agree with a client’s feedback, ask questions that direct the conversation back to the business.

Now, if this particular client was bitten by a dog as a child or has a penchant for cats that can’t quite be explained and it doesn’t negatively impact the piece, swap out the photo and be done with it. (Not every hill is worth dying on.) Most important is that the work you do and the feedback you receive ladders up to the strategy—and that you gain competence and confidence engaging clients in conversations at that level every time.