“Clients. They just don’ get it, do they? They really don’t understand (Insert: what good work is / social media / the Internet / whatever your new frustration is)”
How many times do we hear that?
It seems that if clients don’t embark on super innovative and mega cool new campaigns is down to the fact that they are afraid of taking risks or simply refuse to change.
We’ve all been there, presented some TV work we thought was utterly brilliant and was going to completely turn their fortunes around. Or the next social network idea / iPhone app idea that would have revolutionised the market.
But they didn’t get it. They weren’t ready for it. And turned it down. Despite being in their best interests to actually do it. Why and how can we change that?
It all came to me like a kick in the teeth, while watching an episode of Mary queen of the shops.
The woman’s a genius. She could have many a fortune in any creative career she would have chosen.
She reminded me of how obsolete is the way we try to build relationships with our clients and sell them good work.
More often than not, we take a client’s brief, go away for a couple of month and go back to present our brand new shiny integrated 360 campaign. We put all our eggs into one presentation. All our efforts, all our energy, all our creativity, into trying to pack the most insightful, brilliant… PowerPoint presentation. It’s such a massive risk and makes it so hard for client to buy a brave solution when they haven’t even grasped the basics of the new techno-friendly communication landscape.
Now you hear a lot of people saying they try to take the client on a journey with them, etc. But really, who does it and what does they do about it apart from organizing a brainstorming session with the client or a throwing an odd workshop every now and then?
But back to Mary. In every episode, she tries to help a local retailer who’s struggling to keep its business afloat. She has only four weeks to do it. What’s important is that they have signed up to the BBC website to get her help. They know she is retail guru. They need her help or otherwise they will go bankrupt. You’d think it’d be dead easy: here’s your new concept BAM, thank you very much. Yet, they all turn to be nightmarish clients, difficult and scared to death to change. And let me tell you, they are a lot more difficult to deal with than the clients we have.
Here’s a little exert:
I mean how do you fancy working with him, owner of a DIY shop?
Yet, (almost always) she manages to delivers a master class in selling work to the most difficult clients possible.
And beyond her fantastic personality and charisma, there is a very creative method in her flamboyant style. One that can and should be applied to one of our biggest problems; selling better work to clients.
She spends most of her 4 weeks, trying to get to know the business, trying to understand them, inspiring them, challenging them, getting their confidence, getting them involved, motivating them, and only when they are ready for it, will she introduce the new concept. She knows what she wants to do with the shop the moment she steps in it, but she makes a point of getting her clients there with her every step of the way.
An advertising agency would have taken the brief, gone away, come back two weeks later with a 70 slides presentation, some concepts and would have spent the remaining 2 weeks arguing the hell about it, demonstrating with research how right they are, pestering against the client’s lacks of vision.
Mary is often faced with shop owners who have been used to doing things the way they wanted all their lives. Who have put their personality and all they had in these shops. She has to confront them with the truth (sometimes brutally). These furniture sellers have NO taste, no idea what’s modern or what people want. When they are confronted by Mary on that fact, they all vigorously refute the fact. It’s a gigantic blow to their personal pride.
Indeed, they are out of touch with their own business. Out of touch with their consumers. They’ve ben kept in their protective bubble for the last decades and have known nothing else than what’s got them there. (rings a bell?). Mary just knows that there is a huge amount of work to before showing them anything new.
How many times does it happen? Clients business not doing too well, seeks a cool agency, yet don’t listen to their advice?
Yet she manages to do in 4 weeks what a lot of us fail to do in a year. So here’s a list of 10 things you could start doing right now to make sure you start getting the work you want out of your clients to get us started:
1/ Redefine what an account team stands for
The responsibility of selling the work should not belong only to the account team anymore.
Get an inspiring client-facing person in your account team. Who sees your clients the most? Who’s building your client relationship? Your account team. Who are the most inspiring people in your agency? Everyone else. (sorry, overgeneralising for the purpose of the exercise). Yet they barely get any client time, do they? Might want to start changing that. CDs at Wieden are client facing, and not just for the big presentation, they are present all the way from the original client briefing. They inspire clients all the way. They don’t just show up to present their work at the end of the process and act like divas if its turned down.
Apart from rare occasion, account management does not know much of what is going on in terms of new campaigns, technology, etc. They need to be fed constantly with new stimulus and it should be their responsibility to make sure the clients are kept up-to-date with the latest ideas and technology.
Creative, producers, planners, innovation people, social media people, etc. should all be part of a core team who’s job it is to keep inspiring their client.
2/ Reintegrate the Innovation lab or innovation director into the day to day client servicing
Having a separate innovation departments and officers made sense a couple of years ago, as a PR exercice. Now pretty much every agency has one, it does not make sense any more to have them as stand alone department, disconnected from the hard realities of running an account. Their responsibility lies in making the input of the agency better and more integrated, every day, and helping clients buy that work. Looking cool to the outside world, should be a bonus of doing awesome work, not an end in itself. Flip that focus & energy from trying to impress your peers back to serving the machine internally. The whole innovation business thing is becoming a bit of a joke, mutual ego stroking and intellectualising theories that are completely unrealistic for most clients and situation.
Look no further than BBH Labs working on Google for a successful example of how to do it.
3/ Be creative about getting more client time
Probably the most difficult challenge. Clients are busy bees. They don’t normally tend to make time for inspiration sessions. Why? Because they sound dull and although they know their knowledge is limited, they don’t feel like being bombarded by lots of ‘cool’ shit that makes no sense to them.
BBH used to organise a marketing dinner for their big cheese client to meet and chat about each other perspectives, which proved a great success. (and a pain to organise).
Organise events with artists, reorganise your reception into the inspiration room, take your clients to exhbitions and talks, get them to meet their own consumers, etc. Be innovative and stimulating, and your clients will find the time for you.
4/ Maximise every client touch point
- How many times clients come to your agency? Quite a few times don’t they? Do they ever get any stimulation while waiting in the reception? Are they exposed to new stuff each time? Nope. What a missed opportunity. I have seen a lot of advertising agencies reception. All imposing. None inspiring. What does it say about us as a business? (and having an artist exhibiting in the reception lobby doesn’t count as stimulation)
- What about emails? Good old newsletter, etc.
- A dedicated tumblr blog for each of your client? Responsibility of the innovation lab mentioned above?
5/ Have an inspiration strategy
Let’s reiterate one human truth: NO ONE LIKES TO BE SOLD TO. You don’t like when research agencies, production agencies, designers, try to sell you stuff. Same feeling for your clients towards you pushing them to do an Iphone app. They don’t believe you because they doubt you have their best interest at heart. But what we do like, is the feeling of discovering something by ourselves. When are clients most likely to get to grasp a new the importance of a new technology? When they see their children / wife using it. Sad but true.
We need to have strategies to get clients to realise by themselves the importance of digital, of the participartory culture, new opportunities offered by this new generation of smart-phone. And showing them slides is probably the least efficient way to do so.
Selling doesn’t start when you start presenting your strategy & concept. By that time, the selling should almost be over, just needing a last push. As you embark on a new project, you should make sure you have an ‘inspiration’ strategy that will start taking your client up there with you, so there’s little room for incomprehension when you present.
This should be a long term and continuous inspiration plan. Yes, not a 2 hours workshop every 6 months, or a quick email every now and then. That should be as important as working on the strategy and creative itself.
6/ Take clients out of their comfort zone
An important point: One of the best way Mary has to convince clients that they didn’t understand what was going on in the real world anymore was to a/ get consumers in their shop and tell what they really think of it (it was painful truth to hear from the owners).
She then takes them to the extreme top-end of their range. Furniture owner meet top interior designer Abigail Ahern (
We don’t all know Paul Smith as a friend, but there are ways to get your clients to get out of their comfort zone and stuck in the real world without spending money and having fun in the process:
“Mary drives her Audi A3 up to picturesque Corfe Castle in Dorset, where owners Chris and Juliet are running village store Clealls into the ground. Mary spots that the relocated Cockney couple haven’t bonded with the locals, so takes them out on a pheasant shoot”
“Portas organises a saucy promotional photoshoot for the Fosters sisters, neglecting to tell them they’ll be wearing nothing but fruit and veg. Jen cries because she thinks she looks fat. Debbie says, “My husband will be moritified. I can see myself in the divorce courts over this.” Portas talks them round, they look fabulous and hang the framed portraits behind the counter.”
Source: The Telegraph
The staff of a DIY shop won’t wear the uniform. Bang, organise a photoshoot.
7/ Hire the right kind of people: empathy for people, passion for great work, energy and style
One of the reasons Mary has been so successful is partly due to the fact that she genuinely loves people. She wants to help them. She has an empathy you can’t fake. When I work on a client’s business, I take it to heart to serve them to the best of my abilities and to do what’s right for them, not what’s right for my boss or my creative (it got me in troubles, but it always works out when you have the backing of your client).
She also has a passion for great design and retail. It’s in her DNA. And something you can’t teach. If your people don’t love advertising, have a passion for it, it’s not going to work in the long term. Give them a gentle nudge to look for work somewhere else less demanding.
When your account team sees spending time with your clients as a punishment, you are in trouble…
Energy is an important factor as well. Energy is contagious and so is the lack of it. Make sure you have a lot of high energy people on your team.
And finally style. Mary Portas look the part. It’s a subject Scamp had discussed before but look and appearance always play a part in your reputation and presence. Look at John Hegarty.
He’s fashioned an image and style that says who he is without having to shout about it. Whatever you do, build an image consequently. Clients don’t look for replicates of themselves, but business partners that will provide them with a creative output they can’t reproduce.
8/ Use the right tools for the right job
Mary uses focus group to highlight the problems, not to find the solution. She is the expert, she knows what people will want, they don’t. She doesn’t have to research her concept to prove its good, but uses feedback and research to show where the opportunities are.
Dealing with change can be a painful experience. When Mary sees one of her client is feeling left out, she takes her out for a coffee and ask her what is going and tries to get her back on tracks. When’s the last time you had a one-to-one coffee with your main client? A heart to heart, genuine, conversation, out of the office?
Go and get the right experts, who are credible in your clients’ eyes.
If you can’t get your clients out of their comfort zone, create videos to show them what they should be doing.
For example this 3 minutes video is a lot more powerful than the most amazing presentation
9/ Pull your finger out & never give up
Gets your hands dirty, it’s not going to happen by sitting in front of your laptop. Delegate some parts to the good people in your team. Get started. Your clients wont change overnight so don’t lose hope, this is a big change and one for the long term. Don’t give up and you’ll harvest the results soon enough. It’s a brave new world…
10/ This is just a start, would love to hear yours.
And I will be available for a new challenge from September 2010, so if you hear of anything, send it my way!