There is no such thing as a bad client
There is one subject that people like me on blogs like this rarely address. While we devote acres of prose and polemic to everything from innovative brand models to brilliant new technology we give little thought to the people and organisations that commission the work we do. Without clients nothing would be created by our industry and the frontiers of our discipline would never be pushed forward. Clients are our patrons not just our paymasters.
Of course, not all clients are the same when it comes to asking for and commissioning the most innovative, creative and effective work from their agencies. This much is self evidently true given the industrial quantities of absolute dross that rains down on consumers through every medium imaginable. Much will be the responsibility of mediocre agencies but there is a truism that clients get the agency and therefore the work that they deserve.
However, I am increasingly convinced that this is not because some clients are ‘good’ and others are ‘bad’. For sure, some client organisations behave appallingly to their agencies whether through promiscuity, incompetence or greed and are the architects of abusive relationships. And in truth there ought to be a way of blacklisting those organisations until their behavior changes. But these are genuine exceptions, most clients are ‘good’ people and companies to work with. So how come they don’t all get great work?
The answer is a matter of confidence. The plain fact of the matter is that some clients are brimming with confidence and some cower in the face of the new, interesting, brave, creative, powerful and potent. Confidence marks the clients that are getting the best work from those whose wares trouble but rarely engage us.
Without a doubt right now you can smell the confidence, or otherwise, of the retail client community. Say what you like about Ringan Ledwidge’s rose tinted view of the trenches or the horny as fuck CGI penguin, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis work carries the raw stench of confidence. These are clearly clients that believe that they can achieve anything that they set out to achieve, they brief their work in hope not fear, and they expect their agency to push itself harder and harder. Without a dount they have their mojo working. By contrast there is nothing wrong with the work for Tesco or Marks & Spencer this Christmas, or Boots, or anyone else for that matter but its very clear that these are not Clients brimming with confidence – life is a whole lot harder for them.
But when a client has confidence the places that agency and client can take the brand are limitless. Right now I am working with Direct Line, there is a client that has its mojo working. You don’t ask an underworld fixer like Mr Wolf to front the relaunch of your insurance brand without a whole heap of confidence. Similarly the work we are doing with Kerry foods, using the gaming community to teach a robot with AI to be the ultimate gaming companion, wouldn’t be happening without a client with loads of self belief.
And to my mind helping to create that confidence is the agency’s job. Or rather, agencies can help restore or build up the confidence of a client through progressive planning support and creative delivery. Confidence is the result of success, from work that is award winning, highly effective or, as is most common, both.
The Royal Wedding spoof we created for T-Mobile in 2011 became the most successful ad on You Tube that year and delivered an astonishingly high return on investment. However, the confidence that it took to commission and buy that work was entirely built on three years of increasingly successful ‘Life’s for sharing’ campaigns from the flashmob in Trafalgar square to ‘Welcome back’ in Heathrow. These things don’t happen over night.
It’s high time then that we stopped labeliing clients as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and recognise that some are just a little more confident in their brand, marketing and communications than others. And if they lack confidence that is often down to us. Agnecies with ambition have a vital role in helping build the confidence of each and every client, working from the ground up to deliver for them and embolden them because the know what success looks and feels like and want more of it.§
2 Replies to “There is no such thing as a bad client”
Nice post and I agree wholeheartedly.
Your mention of Tesco prompts a question:
Do you think that clients select brave agencies based on their confidence, or that brave agencies have talented account people and planners who can convince timid clients to share their vision?
It really confuses me why Tesco would award their huge account to such an adventurous agency and then only buy very safe work from them.
It’s up to you to make your client a good one.