Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2017

When life gives you lemons, don’t squeeze them too hard

Published Mar 15, 2018 10:30am
The more you squeeze an agency, the less the creative juices will flow...

Citrus fruits are the loveliest of things. You go to the market to pick out the freshest and most attractive. Slice them in two to reveal their juicy inside. Squeeze them lightly and you get a few drops. Squeeze them harder and then things become much more interesting. The harder you squeeze, the more they produce. Once you are done squeezing, it is only reasonable to discard the spent fruit and look for a fresh one to fill up your glass. This process is repeated until the glass is full of juice, rich in taste and vitamin C.

Would it be unreasonable to look at agencies as citrus fruits? Let’s explore the notion.

Do agencies display themselves in the market in the loveliest and most charming of manners, waiting to be picked by prospective clients? Yes, of course.

Do agencies produce their best work without requiring a good hard squeeze from the clients? Sadly, in my experience, even the best agencies wait for that good strong squeeze from the client before delivering what they are truly capable of.

Does stronger and stronger squeezing from the client produce more and more juice from the agency? Sadly yes, in the short-term. Agencies find themselves in a corner with no option but to keep delivering more for less, in fear of losing their precious clients.

Are agencies discarded once they run out of juice? In our competitive world, sadly yes.

It seems agencies do behave like citrus fruits much of the time. After all, a tough client knows how to apply the squeeze and squeezing sadly generates short-term results. Agencies are also not shy of lining up around well-heeled clients to re-enforce this behaviour. I have two nuggets of advice to offer.


Advertising is part art, part science. There is no single formula or process that leads to advertising perfection all the time. At the end of the day, it is good judgment, great teamwork and a clear sense of purpose that allows clients to get the best out of their agencies.


For agencies, I would advise them to stop behaving like citrus fruits! Perpetual and unreasonable pressure burns out good human resources. It is a harrowing ordeal that harms the agency environment to no end. For clients, I would advise them to stop turning their agencies into citrus fruits. Agencies can certainly produce more work when squeezed, but not better work. Flushed out citrus fruits are certainly not creative! Mundane communication does not help brands in an increasingly competitive world.

Now let’s take this analogy to the next level. Bigger clients like to squeeze more citrus fruits. They can pay more, so they command a greater right. So what happens to the industry when the big boys (and girls) squeeze, squeeze, and then squeeze some more? Is it really a mystery why Pakistan lags behind other regions in creativity?

The truth is that agencies are living, breathing organisations, although they have been known to behave like citrus fruits. Agencies are used to delivering great work under tight deadlines, so a bit of squeezing is healthy. Too much squeezing will suck the life out of them.

Here are five suggestions to help clients get the best from their agencies without ruining them.

1. Do not keep the agency in a perpetual state of panic

Agencies take relationships seriously and they will panic if you keep telling them they are not good enough. Every agency goes through bad patches and needs encouragement and motivation to get back in the game. Being kicked to the curb again and again does not help. Panic sows confusion and a confused agency is not working at its peak for the brand.


Good feedback should be objective rather than, “I didn’t get the wow factor.” There is nothing wrong with rejecting a piece of work so long as the feedback begets something better. Feedback is a tool to bring the agency and client teams together for a common goal, rather than act as a blunt bludgeoning instrument.


2. Agency people are not mind readers

Great agency people are very intuitive, but having to guess what is on their client’s mind all the time is as unpleasant as it gets. Agencies look to clients for clear leadership and briefs. Mixed signals make agencies second-guess themselves. A disoriented agency team is certainly not performing at the top of their game.

3. Clients should learn how to push their agencies towards goals in a way that is motivating

Agency people have young and fresh minds that can produce great creative work when pushed in a positive manner. Creative people crave stimulation, rather than being bludgeoned by a blunt instrument. If all you can do is squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, you should stop being a client and take up an alternative profession as a fresh fruit juice wala.

4. Clients should master the art of giving feedback

Agencies develop their work from the heart, but the rubber hits the road when the work is presented to the client. Confused or imprecise feedback makes the agency go round and round in circles of frustration. Good feedback should be objective rather than, “I didn’t get the wow factor.” There is nothing wrong with rejecting a piece of work so long as the feedback begets something better. Feedback is a tool to bring the agency and client teams together for a common goal, rather than act as a blunt bludgeoning instrument.

5. A client should work with the agency as a member of the team, rather than be the person sent down to punish them

Great agency teams performing at their peak for the benefit of the brand, is a testament to a client with great leadership qualities. Agencies can only be as good as clients allow them to be. They need to be pushed, but they also need to be encouraged.

Advertising is part art, part science. There is no single formula or process that leads to advertising perfection all the time. At the end of the day, it is good judgment, great teamwork and a clear sense of purpose that allows clients to get the best out of their agencies.

Freshly-squeezed citrus fruits can certainly wake you up in the morning, but they come nowhere near providing the advertising high that will really lift up your brand to a new dimension.

Afzal Hussain is General Manager, M&C Saatchi World Services, Pakistan.
afzal.hussain@mcsaatchi.com