The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The Value Of Being Lateral, Rather Than Literal …

Yes I’m back.

If anything will help you be excited about the oncoming weekend, it will be that.

So the picture above is from a presentation I give to planners.

The reason for it is because I find it fascinating when ad folk try to be like their client.

Exactly like their client.

The way they speak. The way they dress. The way they think.

Of course, I understand the importance of knowing your client, their business and their challenges, but the problem with mirroring your client is that you end up looking at the World in the same way as them … and as much as some people may think that’s a good thing, it’s not.

You see when you focus on being like an insider, you ignore the benefits of thinking like an [informed] outsider. You know, the perspective the client actually hired you for in the first place.

As one of my old senior Nike clients once said to me …

“Senior management need and want to be challenged because that’s how we keep things moving forward. If you’re not doing that, then you’re not doing anything for us”.

Now I appreciate not every client thinks this way, but this shift to client mirroring is – in my opinion – another thing that has undermined our industry.

I swear the reason for it is an attempt to be taken seriously as a client partner when the easiest way to achieve that is to do work that shows we are a serious client partner.

Do the people who say, “we’ve lost our seat at the boardroom table” seriously think this approach will change that?

Maybe … but then they will be wrong because there’s only 3 things that will do that.

1. Talk about the things that are important to the client rather than important to us.

2. Know their audience/culture better than they know their audience/culture.

3. Solve their business challenges in creatively imaginative, distinctive, culturally resonant and sustainable ways.

Oh, and there’s a 4th point … prove it.

Not just in the short-term, but in the long … where client can see the economic value of investing in their brand voice. Not just through ‘brand campaigns’, but in how they approach everything they do.

Now I know some of you may think this whole post is my attempt to justify wearing shit t-shirts and birkenstocks to client meetings for the last 25+ years – and maybe it is – but if we are to get back to where we belong, I passionately believe it’s not going to happen by behaving more like clients, but by getting back to the things they need and no one else can do.

20 Comments so far
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There is no client in the world who behaves like you Robert. Would it be discourteous to add a “thank goodness” to the end of that?

Comment by George

I must add this is an excellent point rarely appreciated by the industry.

Comment by George

Oh there are some clients George … but they tend to get fired very quickly. That’s why I’ve always stayed on this side of the fence, ha.

Comment by Rob

this is why adland is fucked.

Comment by andy@cynic

Excellent post. It isn’t hard to win clients over but offering them the same perspective that they already have is not one of them.

Comment by Lee Hill

Yep. The amount of times I’ve seen a deck presented to a client that basically tells them stuff they already know in a bid to prove to them they have done their homework. That’s not doing your homework, if anything, that’s the absolute opposite of doing it.

Comment by Rob

I think it’s called differentiation.

Comment by John

i saw you in a suit at a client fucking function once. so fuck off.

Comment by andy@cynic

and you ruined it for fucking everyone there. you always do but this was super fucking ruined.

Comment by andy@cynic

Can you describe the suit?

Comment by John

It was a nice suit.

I wore it to a client function – the Melbourne Cup – Australia’s version of Royal Ascot. It caused such a stir that I won the ‘best dressed’ award, which pissed off all the elegantly attired ladies who were doing the damnedest to get the title.

One of the best days of my life. Ha.

Comment by Rob

Don’t think I didn’t notice that you didn’t describe the suit.

Comment by John

Nice is not a description, it’s an opinion. And, in this case, it’s your opinion about a sartorial matter …

Comment by John

you looked a twat. you won the vote because you looked less of a twat than anyone expected. like susan boyle.

Comment by andy@cynic

Andy FTW.

Comment by DH

Why aren’t you all watching the France Uruguay match?

Comment by DH

unlike you i can do 2 fucking things at once.

Comment by andy@cynic

I don’t always agree with your viewpoints, but I completely agree with you on this.

Personally, I’ve found that even traditional clients appreciate their agencies more when the latter respectfully challenges their preset notions with strategic solutions that are clearly based on a deep understanding of their brand, product, market and target audience. Clients may not necessarily agree to shift their approach right away, but they will at least open their minds to taking that step. When you prove can be trusted, and that your proposals actually work, they’ll take that tiny, but crucial step forward. This is especially true in Japan, which is averse to risk or change.

Many people who claim to be strategists or strategic planners are actually detached theorists who don’t know how to develop a solution that actually works. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a BS “strategy” deck with BS charts and BS pretty pictures that quietly gets shuffled away as soon as production starts. What emerges at the end is a lifeless shell that was clearly driven by creatives who don’t care a single whit about strategy. You can guess the client’s reaction.

Comment by KeroK

i’m shocked you agree with any of his points.

Comment by DH

Never had that problem…:)

Comment by krisinamsterdam

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