David Ogilvy famously said that every client gets the work that they deserve. I have pondered over this quote to try and understand how one could so eloquently shrug one’s shoulders without the need to say to a client: “Hey dude, this is on you.”
Get the most out of your agency. This sentence can easily be construed as driving your agency to the ground and working them to the bone. We all know that working harder is not the same as working smarter. As a senior, I am blessed with fantastic people to teach and learn from. Yet, as an agency head, I cannot tell my clients how they ought to deal with their agency more effectively. So, I am taking the opportunity here to offer some advice to clients on how to get the most out of their agency.
Collaborate, Not Compete
This is a business of opinions and everyone should have one. Opinion, however, is just that. A point of view that may look straight as an arrow hitting a bull’s eye to one person and a corkscrew to someone else who may think you are trying to use it to scoop out jello. Employ the technique of “Yes, and...”. This expression is used in improv comedy and works on the basis of you having to say “Yes” to whatever ridiculous story others throw at you and build on it with the “And”. This doesn’t mean you don’t make your point, it means you listen. Your agency is not your competition, they are your collaborators.
Bring Problems to the Table; Leave Your Ego at the Door
A gospel truth that makes it possible to understand people is that everyone needs importance and validation. However, constantly fishing for importance and validation is selfish and destructive to any relationship, be it personal or professional. Grow up please and learn to identify the problems so you can solve them together. Allow yourself to say “I stand corrected; I don’t know the answer, let me get clarity on this.” It takes strength to reveal your weakness. Be strong and embrace these words without shame.
Question, Question, Question
Everything starts with questions. Ask as many as you can. History has taught us that every invention and innovation came from asking questions and finding better solutions. There must have been a hungry person sitting on the beach who looked at a crab and thought “Can I eat this?”, which led to “How do I catch it?” and ended up by making crab cakes. That’s the moral of the story.
Perfect Bread Doesn’t Rely on the Perfect Oven
Marketing is about the joy of creation. Yet, more energy is spent on creating frameworks than doing the work. It’s like spending all our time perfecting the oven and then not having time to bake the bread properly. Hence, half-baked work is pushed out and we wonder why audiences choke on it.
The relationship balance is tipped in the favour of the client in every service industry. Be it tailoring or hospitality, the norm is to demand extra attention and be quick to complain. It should not be the norm. The service industry should be relabelled the solution industry. When we think service, images of entitlement and superiority come to mind. When we think solution, images of expertise, dedication and helpfulness come to mind. At the end of the day, my tailor is not there to serve my clothing needs, he is there to provide solutions to my dressing problems. The old way of getting work out of an agency was closed communication, pressure and threats; the new way is open communication, respect and collaboration. In a solutions industry, everyone is ready to tackle problems and design processes, which, rather than resisting the problem, embraces it. The quantum of work and pace has changed. Brands used to respond; now everyone reacts. Decisions cannot be delayed and next action points are not even typed, they are sent as a voice note. This comes from a need to expedite, empower and enhance the workflow, but it does not work in the long run. This adage is true for both clients and agencies. As Jeff Goodby (co-founder of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners) said, being an agency means being a therapist for your clients. That is why clients should talk to their agencies (who should hear them out, understand the problem and empathise) and ask them to provide solutions. Yet, boardroom conversations centre on each entity talking about their own problems rather than listening, addressing the problem and finding solutions.
A Two-Way Street
Client or agency bashing is an industry pastime. Both parties will happily talk about each other but not always to each other and this gets stale. Open up and get closure on things. Assumptions only lead to frustration. No one should be punished for asking a question no matter how silly it is. On second thoughts, there are no silly questions.
Be Human and Don’t Forget Others Are Human Too
Difficulties begin when people are treated like things. Remind yourself that there are humans on both sides. They have the same fears, dreams and struggles like everyone else, including yourself. Being human means giving mistakes and uncertainty a pass.
Get the Decision-Maker in the Room
A big source of frustration and inefficiency arises when the decision-maker is not the brief-maker. Being a brand manager is more than being a post office getting stamps of approval. Stand your ground in front of the boss and the agency will stand with you. Elon Musk said that your salary is directly proportional to the difficulty of the task you have been given. Managing upwards is going to be difficult; hence your salary slip at the end of each month. Make sure you earn it.
In the end, don’t forget that we need each other. Our success is intertwined. Our failure is intertwined.
Atiya Zaidi is Managing Director/Executive Creative Director, BBDO Pakistan & Co-founder, Shero Space, a career coaching and mentoring company. firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views in this article are her own and don’t reflect the views of any organisation.