The proverbial battle between client services (also referred to as suits) and creatives is as old as the heavens above, with both sides proclaiming themselves as the torchbearers. Let me give some context for those of you who have not witnessed these battles.
Creatives feel that as the creators of the product (creativity) agencies sell, they should be given more seats at the big boy’s table. On the other hand, client services believe that as custodians of the client relationship, they have a right to be at the head of the table. The fact is that most agencies rarely promote CEOs from the creative or planning departments and it is client services who rule the empires.
Ironically, many network and independent agencies have been founded by creatives. David Ogilvy (Ogilvy & Mather), Bill Bernbach (DDB), Dan Wieden, David Kennedy (Widen & Kennedy) and David Droga (Droga 5). Over time, client services earned the right to sit at the head of the table (this continues to be the case as most agencies are headed by people from the same background). Yet, far from being viewed as people who dethroned creatives from their place at the top table, client services are viewed as glorified dispatchers, email forwarders and yes, men. I am not indulging in this name calling with any mirth. It actually worries me to see client services becoming redundant resources.
Is this true? Does the creative agency of the future not need client services? Will this role be reduced to administrative tasks? A jilted and cynical creative might answer these questions with a pounding fist –“YES! Now I get my revenge.”
However, as a dinosaur of the industry, I have seen the crucial value great client services bring to a project. They are the first warriors into battle, staking out enemy territory, strategically planting mines of persuasions and never leaving a man or woman behind. Ten years ago there was no way a creative would even think of questioning the need for client services. Have the robots already taken over their jobs or has something else happened?
Here is what some creatives think (they decided not to grace these pages with their names):
1 “Client services have become comfortable over time; presenting and selling ideas has become the job of creatives. This should never be the case. The number of useless meetings we have to attend is above the sanity threshold. Meetings where client services only say hello and goodbye.”
“Client servicing is never going to be viewed as the most glamorous part of agency life. Getting it right can be as much of an art as anything your creative team might do. Without the right relationship in place between client and agency, even your best creative concepts will struggle to see the light of day.”
2 “They go into meetings blindly. Why are we doing what we are doing, should be a question client services should ask before a meeting. Their job is to ask whether this is worth their team’s time. Time that could be spent working on the creative deliverables.”
3 “I feel bad for young client services people. No one has told them that their job is not only to attend calls from clients or forward emails. Their main job is to understand the client’s business challenges and market dynamics. A great client services person cares more about the brand than the client. Added to this, they don’t have access to the decision maker at the client end (who only talks to the agency head). Hence, they are stuck dealing with people who only have the power to say no.”
4 “One thing that is hurting client services is their lack of motivation to keep learning. Advertising is changing and it has never been more important to understand that change is the only constant. They should learn about new platforms and with so many resources available online, what is stopping them from ensuring that they are not left behind?”
Here are a few tips offered by some awesome client services people and a few clients who understand the value of partnership. Once again, let’s not name names.
1 “The client is paying for your opinion; show your value by voicing it. But you can only voice your opinion if you have a candid relationship with your client. Know their challenges, know your client.”
2 “Leave your insecurities at the door. A successful campaign is only possible when the team plays collectively. Don’t push your job onto creatives or planners; ensure that everyone understands the team ethic and process.”
3 “Celebrate success collectively. Client services are notorious for throwing team members under the bus. The most successful are those who believe that every success is due to the team. Don’t go out on celebratory dinners with the client alone; take the people who made it possible with you.”
4 “Be an energy provider. Morale in a creative department goes six feet under after 10 rounds of changes. Don’t waste time hunting for scapegoats. An effective client services executive is the one who provides a shoulder to cry on or at least the samosas. They should be like jolly old Santas, who drop by unannounced on working weekends. The least they can do is offer empathy.”
The role of client services will be reduced if they let it be reduced. If they don’t bother learning about the project, be involved in its creation or bring strategic value to meetings, then other departments may have to do their job for them. Planning and creative can service clients, but is that what clients are paying them for? Yes, they can service clients, but at the cost of the time to do their own jobs.
As per sage advice in Drum magazine: “Client servicing is never going to be viewed as the most glamorous part of agency life. Getting it right can be as much of an art as anything your creative team might do. Without the right relationship in place between client and agency, even your best creative concepts will struggle to see the light of day.”
It’s safe to say – suits, please suit up!!
Atiya Zaidi is ECD, BBDO Pakistan.firstname.lastname@example.org