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

Play To Provoke, Not To Pander …

So this is the last post till next Thursday.

I know … I know … I’ve only just come back from China but now I’m off to the US, so you get 3 more days free from me. Given this month has had an alarming lack of posts given I’ve found myself in Fiji, Australia, China and America, you should consider October my early Christmas present to you all.

So to make up for that, here’s a relatively long post.

Which by my standards, means extra long.

So recently I caught up with an ex-colleague from cynic.

Given they were a bloody nightmare when we worked together, I’m still in shock how they are now a very senior figure in a very high profile company.

Damn them, hahaha.

Anyway, we were chatting and they said how bad they thought agencies were in pitches.

Specifically, their desperation to be liked.

They said they thought the business plan for many agencies is to out-pander the competition.

It got so bad that apparently in a recent meeting, they asked the agency:

“If we’re so good and doing so well, why would we need you?”



Yep … but they have a point.

I remember once being told to not challenge the clients previous work as someone in the room might have made it … even though we were literally in a pitch to reinvent the clients work.

And while it was an exception in my career [which I ignored and – guess what – we won!!!] the reality is I am hearing this happening more and more, which is why my friends commentedjust seemed to underline its validity.

Which leads me to some questions …

What do agencies think our job is?

What do agencies want to do and change?

And for the companies that buy into this, what do they want their agencies to do for them?

I appreciate I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career by working with/for/under people, agencies and clients [not to mention my parents] who deeply value debate and provocation to get to better places. I also acknowledge there is an art to HOW you challenge … rather than go in with fists and elbows.

But the idea of pandering rather than provoking seems insane to me.

Sure, you have to have a point of view rather than just have a desire to be controversial … but while you can’t be blind to the good stuff people are doing, neither should you be to the bad.

I swear part of the problem is this attitude we are part of the ‘service’ industry.

That our job is to serve.

To stay silent.

To satisfy needs.

And while we are there to serve our clients … it’s in the quest of helping them be better, not be subservient to. But increasingly it feels that is what a lot of people are expecting – and why a lot of agencies are pandering – which is why I will always treasure something my brilliant ex-NIKE/FFI client and friend – Simon Pestridge – once said to me:

“Middle management want to be told they’re right. Senior management want to know how to be better”.

He’s right.

He’s never been more right.

It’s why the people who worked for him are also great clients … because he set great standards, of which one of them was understanding that transparency, truth and challenge are ultimate signs of respect not confrontation.

Debate isn’t bad.

In my mind, it means you both want to get to somewhere better.

Where you’re holding each other to standards and ambitions you hold dear.

Of course, to do this properly you need to share ambition, standards and trust … not just philosophically, but in terms of the actual work and change you want to create together.

I mean … if you can’t be provocative during a pitch – when a client is literally looking for new ideas – when the hell can you be?

Which all reinforces something my parents used to say to me …

Everyone wants to be liked, but you go further when you’re respected.

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