Being true to clients

I came across an excellent piece today about the ‘client relationship’. The article happened to be about the marketing/advertising industry, but the underlying principles expressed apply to any situation in which you must make that judgement between how much to give the client what they say they want versus how much to convince them to accept what you believe they need.

It’s just a 5-minute read:

Here also is what I wrote in response:

Can you hear it? This is me giving you a standing ovation for this article, Steve. And I’m keeping it going until my hands are sore.

Bravo, bravo, bravo. Ever since I read Strunk’s Elements of Style back in 1970 and Robert Collier’s Letter Book a few years later, I have not read anything as sensible and workable about the business of advertising as this article of yours.

I do know whereof I speak. Fifty years ago, I was a bit of a whiz kid in this field. Before my 18th birthday, they had me writing international campaigns (in partnership with a highly-gifted Visualizer, of course) for likes of TWA, Kodak, 3M, Mitsubishi, Alitalia, P&O, Glaxo, Parker, etc.

And most of what I’ve read over the years about the “handling of the client” has been pure drivel — or just clever bits at the tactical level that always come to nought when you fail to get the relationship and the strategy right.

Sometimes there is no getting a relationship right — and you just have to cope with that reality. A continental Kodak client comes to mind, who alwaysrejected at least the first two submissions for any project, regardless of their quality. We learned the hard way that this was the client’s way of making sure he got his “money’s worth” out of us — and anyone in the agency who tried to buck this insanity — in Creative or in Client Contact — would come to grief over it sooner or later.

Only when we accepted this “cost of doing business” did we learn how to “play” this particular “relationship”. But I also hasten to add that we never surrendered our duty to do the very best for our client, no matter how difficult he made it.

By hook or by crook, we always managed to make sure that our best submission was the one that he eventually approved. When we timed it wrong, and he approved one of our “filler submissions”, we then had to pretend to outdo ourselves as if our commando creative team had pulled rank on our regular team — or whatever similar explanation would convince him that the best submission was the one that had been most inconvenient and costly for the agency to come up with. Then he was happy.

This may not be the kind of challenging relationship you had in mind when writing your article above. But it does speak to how crazily Catch-22ish that client contact can become — and yet still permit you to accomplish great things for your client, if you don’t abandon your integrity and expertise in service to their misunderstanding of your role.

In any field of human endeavour, there is a line we must not cross in seeking to please misguided bosses or clients, not if we don’t want to lose our self-respect and have our career become soul-destroying. And personally, I think there are few industries so devious at cajoling you across that line as is the advertising industry.

As Bob Dylan reminds us: You gotta serve somebody. That is the the high road to fulfilment. But only if you don’t follow it slavishly. You have to remain true to your own reality of what does serve others — not pedantically, but adaptively (sans ego)— and this article provides an excellent recipe for how to achieve that.

Well done!

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Posted June 17, 2019 at 7:33 pm by Gus Griffin · Permalink
In: Misc