Building mutual trust is critical
Without mutual trust, opportunities will be missed and crucial insights may be overlooked…and it’s the brand that is the loser. Both the agency and client must recognize the strengths that each party brings and, to achieve that, it is well worth spending time defining mutual expectations and desires. To that end, marketing ambitions are often based on available brand research. Obviously, it is crucial to refer to research but, as David Ogilvy said—the father of modern advertising: “Most people use research in the same way a drunk uses a lamp post…for support rather than illumination.” Agencies must respect their clients’ knowledge—the Golden Rule being for the agency and client to treat each other with respect. And we do believe that making the whole marketing process fun follows through to great thinking and implementation.
It’s easy to be wise after the event
It is often said in the advertising profession that “Clients get the work they deserve.” That is not too polite and yet it’s actually true. Marketing and advertising is an arm of general commerce but, unlike many aspects of business, it contains the intangible element of creativity. Like a plant, if that creativity is not ‘watered’ by support and appreciation, it wilts. And, once again, it is the brand that suffers. Good clients understand this interplay and good agencies rise to the occasion.
Clients tend to cite the same reasons for terminating their relationship with their agency. Most of the time these issues might have been resolved if they were acknowledged and addressed earlier. At BFT we are acutely aware of the obvious and less subtle changes in the agency/client partnership. For example: a new client marketing chief or new key personnel in the agency; the agency’s main client contact having internal constraints (this being, perhaps, unreasonable to the agency but, nevertheless, realistic); or the agency being intransigent or arrogant about its creative output. Understanding these and other similar elements of the partnership are crucial to the most successful ongoing planning and work output.
Trevor Nunn, the stage director, said: “Creativity is based on self-confidence…and sometimes that’s dangerously close to arrogance.” We are also acutely aware of some agencies seeming that way and take time to stand back before expounding our wisdom. It’s worth the effort because a second look can either totally underline the recommendation or, in fact, highlight negatives. BFT works very closely with clients through the entire promotional process to avoid creative conflict.
The subject of finance cannot be avoided. Obviously, the client wants to receive great value from its agency (BFT’s aim being to always deliver more than is expected) and an agency should not be expected to work for a less than equitable level of remuneration. We believe that it’s all about balance and setting parameters at the outset that are fixed and respected by both parties.
An agency’s work isn’t “great” if it doesn’t work
All promotional campaigns must deliver as close to the desired return on marketing investment as possible. If the agency’s output doesn’t move the needle and doesn’t achieve the set objectives, then it cannot be deemed either great creative work or even great strategic planning. While there are many factors beyond the control of the agency and client, close teamwork between the two should be able to see over the marketing ‘hill’. We respect that the client team is by far closest to its product or service and we trust that our clients equally respect the wider vision we bring to the party by having worked in so many related (and, even unrelated) commercial marketplaces. When working to its fullest extent, this mutual understanding is the basis for long term success.
We don’t wait for our clients to evaluate the success of a campaign—we instigate the process. By starting with the question “What problems are we solving?” we can set up the campaign’s goals in advance, determining the best way to track them and the timeline to do so. If the campaign isn’t working, let’s look at it together. At the end of the day, when all the creative plaudits have been expounded, the only thing that really matters is our clients’ return on their investment.
Listen to the music behind the lyrics
Communication must be based on ‘listening’. That seems so obvious but it’s amazing how often it does not happen. No one knows all the answers to frequently complex business issues. Time spent literally listening to the client (especially a new one) is worth the effort by the agency. It is our experience that even having the same conversation with different people—each bringing their own perspective—will reap rewards. It can be just one word or phrase (a ‘nugget’ or ‘nuance’) that becomes the kernel of a long term successful campaign. We’ve proven that we’re great listeners, tuning our ear to hearing the music behind the lyrics.
One final pivotal point an agency must remember
Be patient. As much as agencies want to hit the ground running, those more attuned to the subtle complexities of the way in which their clients operate internally will actually gain quicker rewards. It works both ways in that the client must understand the time scale of the creative process too. In other words, it’s commitment from both sides. In order to achieve this over the long term, BFT often works with clients on a trial basis—sort of living together before getting married. That’s why we endorse brainstorming sessions with potential new clients from the outset.
The ‘rules’ above are the basis for a great agency/client relationship. Let’s not forget ‘passion’ though. Without a fair dose of passion no advertising campaign will be memorable or will prompt action from the identified target audience. There is another often-used term in the ad business—referring to some advertising as ‘wallpaper’. That is nice, safe work that will not be out of place in any room. But what client wants their hard-earned marketing budget to be invisible? We won’t let it be.