Friday, August 10, 2007

Clients Sabotage Their Own Ads

Say readers of this blog.

I asked a couple of clients of my acquaintance to defend themselves. Here's what "Anonymous Female Client" said:

So clients are to blame according to a poll amongst advertising there's a surprise!

In reality I think everyone's a little bit to blame when an ad goes wrong, but to even out the scores I'm
going to vote for account management.

Account management is one of the most undervalued roles in an agency. You have to be a revolving ball - representing the client to creative and creative to the client. They have to be a mediator and negotiator. They have to communicate and provide the clarity which prevents the need for compromise on either side later on (when it is often too late). It's not an easy job. But I would say that poor account management skills are often to blame when ads don't turn out the way you want them to be.

And this is what an account-man turned client known as "Boggy" had to say:
Planners always take the credit when a campaign has been proven to be effective (but then it's them who's collated all the evidence), so you could argue that they should take the rap when it is ineffective.  If only it was that easy.

Each department has a different role in the ad process. The thing is, ineffective advertising can come if any part of that process breaks down.  Creatives can seduce teams and clients into buying the wrong creative, planners can deliver the wrong strategy, account men can fail to protect the idea from worried clients, and clients can get any part of their bit wrong at any stage.  The trouble is, its easy for creatives to blame clients, because ultimately it's they who buy the work, or fail to buy the obviously brilliant idea that they should have bought.  

In an ideal world, clients should get the work they deserve - brave clients should get great work and dull clients get crap work.  We all know, however, that that is rarely the case.  Plenty of brave clients have been sold short by poor work, and supposedly dull clients have had very effective work (Cillit Bang anyone?).

Long answer to say that there is no one culprit, but perhaps a plea for agencies to understand a bit better the pressure a client is under buying work. 

The process most commonly breaks down when the client doesn't trust the agency.  That can be because he loses faith in the creative, or disagrees with the strategy, or feels that the agency is just interested in awards/glory, or because under time pressure, the battle lines become drawn when there is no time to debate the issues or search for alternative approaches.

Clients often ask for alternatives to give them confidence that there will be at least a viable solution, whereas agencies always want the one perfect solution.  This creates tension, and this can cause the trust/faith to break down.  If agencies accepted the reality of the need for alternatives, and managed the situation from that reality, then they could probably avoid clients forcing the wrong solution due to fear..  Also, creatives should learn to talk to clients as partners in the process, and not the enemy - this will help build the trust/faith/understanding!

My own view? I don't blame account management that much. Yes, maybe sometimes they fail to sell a great campaign. But not often. I think creatives like to believe that everything they come up with is brilliant. It isn't.

Clients sometimes play things too safe, and buy the more conservative of two routes, or water work down, so that it ends up being too boring for consumers to be interested in. So they must take some blame too.

But the group that must shoulder the most blame, in my opinion, is the Planners. And surely this is fair? Effectiveness is their explicit responsibility. And it is the strategy that makes the work work, or not work (the power of the creative acts as a kind of amplifier, in most categories).

Sorry, Planners.

I still love you.


Carl said...

Unfortunately the volume isn't always turned up or the headphones are kept plugged in ; )

Anonymous said...

I blame the parents.

Ramzi Yakob said...

I think it is a bit harsh to blame planners. A planner should work as well as possible with the creative message which is given to them from creative agencies but sometimes that message is so bad that no matter how good the strategy and or implementation, the required results won't happen.

As far as Account Management goes - I'm not surprised that there is a great deal of poor AM skills out there. Traditionally I've seen AM's rise up from the rank of Planner (as is the natural progression in many agencies). However this seems bizarre to me as the two roles require very different skill sets. AM's shouldn't just be people with a lot of experience in planning, they should be experienced in account handling. I've never understood how planning is conducive to becoming an AM - I guess agencies just don't know what else to do with planners who have 2-3 years experience under their belt and are looking for a better wage.

Alan Wolk said...

Interesting conversation.

I find there are two distinct paths to ineffective work.

The first one is client-driven, in companies (usually very large ones) where clients have no incentive to actually produce ads, but rather to test them and employ all manner of CYA maneuvers. They wind up with something that no one likes or notices, but that no one can nail them about since they have reams of evidence that it "tested well." And that's what they get rewarded for-- testing well.

The second path is agency driven, where everyone gloms onto a really 'out there" idea that appeals to the agencies creatives and their friends. Unfortunately, the product in question is marketed to Boomer women and while it wins all sorts of awards, the women in the target are left scratching their heads. (NB: This is a popular soapbox on The Toad Stool, under the heading "Not Everyone Is An Upscale Thirtysomething Hipster"

Simon Law said...

I'll admit to being a planner upfront, so you can ignore this defense if you want!

Anyway, I agree with a lot of this, but think it's a tad more complex in reality...

It used to be that planners dictated the message (the USP) and were the analysts of the results. Therefore, they were the primary culprits for ineffectiveness as well as effectiveness.

Today, that doesn't quite work, though. Ads aren't simple vehicles to deliver 'Selling Messages.'

We are all trying to find ideas. And good ones are usually a combination of the media, the message (if there is a rational message at all), the values/tone/attitude and the creative delivery... in other words (maybe simpler put), you can't divorce the message from the execution anymore.

As such, there is no single person to point the finger at. You have to accept that the whole game becomes a team thingy - with shared responsibility. Shared success. And shared failure.

I think that's why I still respect Mother for refusing to identify individuals on work - and ascribing credit on everything to 'Mother.' Although maybe they're just protecting themselves from people being hired out of there!

Anonymous said...

The very fact that this is even a point of discussion seems mildly disturbing.

The production of effective work is everybody's job. If you don't see your role being to somehow make the work more effective, then what exactly is the point of you being involved?

The reason for an ad turning out ineffective, therefore, could be anyone's (or several people's) fault. You can only make that call on an ad by ad basis.

Why is your ad kack? Is it the strategy? the execution? Good recommendations not being bought? An inability to enthuse a sales team? the DVD skipping when you're selling in the director's reel? (Damn you, IT) It could be any one of us.

I would hope one of the lessons we glean from the way the industry is being forced to change would be that effectiveness is much bigger than strategy.

It would be useful to rename those awards that planners get 'strategy awards', and then have some real effectiveness awards that go to the whole team for just plain doing an ad that works. I mean, why do we value creative work so much if it doesn't make an ad more effective?

Bring on the day when someone wins an effectiveness awards for a paper that reads "The creative director saw something cool in an exhibition, and thought it's related to our product and would really go down well with our target, and he was right - 750% increase on sales"

But I digress, the main question I wanted to ask was why the desperate need to blame somebody? Does it not seem a bit unprofessional and immature? We're all part of the same team, and should act like it. And perhaps that would bring the most effective work of all?