Advertising Agencies and fear of clients

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Came across this great post titled, ‘An agency driven by fear is a nightmare’. Every word of it rang true for me in the context of a typical client-agency relationship, here in India. In the above article, the author says:

By definition the creative process is fearless. Scared people don’t make anything well except walls and weapons

The Man of Fear often has a big title. He wears it to meetings like a medal. Always on high alert, he justifies anxiety by claiming the client is always on high alert: They hate our ideas. They are talking to another agency. They are angry…again… with us! When The Man of Fear enters a meeting negativity follows him like bad cologne. Never happy, he often loses his temper. Like a pigeon, he shits on work and then leaves in a flap. He can be a client.

How true. Do most agencies fear the client? I think so – in some form or the other. Due to a lot of self-inflicted wounds, the agency today is playing a subservient role to the client. Rarely is the relationship on an even keel. This fear is not about shivering in front of the client (though that too is possible in some cases) – it is about not being able to stand up for what we believe is right for the brand. The courage of conviction goes for a toss when a client rejects an idea. The ability to say ‘no’ to impossible or unrealistic demands is rare in agencies. More often we end up jumping when we are asked to jump.

Fear of calling for a pitch, fear of not paying for a spot, fear of a poor agency evaluation, fear of losing a pitch – all are common. This leads to stuff like accepting unjust compensation and insecurity within the agency. This calls for mature leadership at the agency end and a relationship built on trust. In my experience I have found that when the senior management is hands-on with the client’s work and there is respect for what they bring to the party, life is made easier for people down the line.

Of course, the best antidote to fear is the quality of our work. Most clients have little or no respect for the agency – specially the client servicing folks. I am not being nasty to the servicing fraternity here (I too belong there) but the days of equating the agency to a partner are gone. Clients tend to respect ‘specialists’ like media planners, designers, consultants and designers a lot more. The popular perception of the adman is one of ‘lot of style, very little substance’. Clients believe that they know their business and the consumer better than the average AE or AD. In this context, a master-slave role is natural. The only way out of this is to hone our skills on the one thing that we have and clients don’t: ideas. And if those ideas are backed by solid knowledge, common sense and confidence in our own ability, why fear?

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By bhatnaturally

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bhatnaturally

Ex-ad man. Love advertising, Apple, tech, digital, design and all things creative. VP - MarCom, @Robosoft. Views personal. See disclaimer for more.

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