Ok, hypothesis time.
Say you’re dating someone. Your partner is very important to you and you really want to make it work. So you compliment her/him on everything they say or do. You’re unfailingly complying, agree with everything your partner says, you put their needs before yours, let them choose the date, time, place and nature of your date and pretty much everything else. If you make a mistake, you’re apologetic and make up for it by being extra nice to them, maybe even buying them a gift or two. If they ever make a mistake, you never point it out. In fact, you pretty much bend over backwards to please them, and any argument that ever occurs, ends quickly and in their favour. Every time.
And then one day they dump your sorry ass for someone who’s not even that nice to them.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Nobody likes a doormat, not for too long anyway. That’s something all of us in advertising agencies need to think about.
Time and again, I’ve seen this. An agency wins a pitch, impresses clients with their work, then the clients start asking for ‘safer’ (read tired, boring, soul-sucking) ads, the agency complies and a year or three down the line, the clients take their business elsewhere. Where the same thing happens all over again.
Yes, I get how important it is for agencies to retain businesses. It’s what pays our salaries, we damn well need to keep clients happy. But there’s a very big line between addressing their concerns in our campaigns and letting them dictate the copy, art, strategy and everything in between.
Clients come to us because they think we can help them sell more products or build some kind of brand equity. Somewhere down the line, maybe from past experiences with other agencies, they’ve learned to see us, all of us, as a bunch of self-indulgent, extravagant, decadent snobs who wouldn’t recognize a real market scenario if it got up and slapped us in the face. And God knows, we’ve earned some of this prejudice. But definitely not all of it.
For crying out loud, behind those alcohol and nicotine addictions, a lot of us do understand both the business and the art of advertising. What works for a brand, what stopped working years ago, where a risk must be taken, where it pays to play safe – we understand these matters and should have a say in them. And if the clients don’t listen, we need to make them listen.
I’m not suggesting we throw mounted foam-boards in their faces, call them philistines and stomp out of the conference room. But how about a conversation where the agency makes it clear to the client that it’s open to feedback, but not to Hitlerian missives? I’m proposing a discussion where we say, as diplomatically and politely as possible, that we’re the world’s SECOND oldest profession and will not stoop to things best left to the first.
Make the logo bigger? Sure. Make it 16.38 point sized precisely? No sir, will not do. This line isn’t working for you? I’ll send you eighteen more. But don’t ask me to “say something like” a line you’ve written, because my job title is copyWRITER, not REwriter.
The time is ripe to draw a line. And it’s not exactly an unheard of idea. Top advertising agencies manage to retain the best accounts for years without bending over for their clients. They’re courteous, meet deadlines, deliver quality advertising and stand up for the ideas they believe in. And in return, their clients trust them, take their opinions seriously and don’t treat them like junior studio operators. So clearly, there is a way to keep your clients and your self-respect too.
Bottom line: we have expertise. We just need to convince clients that we’ll use ours to the best of our ability if they just trust us a little. Considering we’re in the business of selling ideas, that shouldn’t be much of a hard-sell now, would it?
Vedashree Khambete is an ACD with Mudra, a writer at heart and a coffee-addict by vocation.