December 8, 2016

Only the brave

In the advertising business, either traditional, digital or somewhere in between, every so often you come up with an idea that you know will be amazing. So you do everything in your power to convince your client that it will be brilliant. You tell them passionately why it answers their brief, why the audience would totally love it, why it would get everyone talking about your product and that it can actually be made. Yet something happens, the client shows a flicker of fear or confusion, they might whisper to each other and you know that something isn’t going quite like you imagined it would. In your mind you pictured the client moved to tears of joy, leaping out of their seat to embrace you as suddenly you’re transport to a stage where you’re receiving that Grand Prix. But instead you’re faced with quizzical faces and a damp squid descends eerily over the meeting. Today that all came rushing back when I saw this project for Lexus featuring a car covered in LED. It’s a year since I presented the very same idea to a client. OK, it’s only advertising. But when you live and breathe this every day it’s heartbreaking to see that another client was brave enough to say yes – let’s do it.

How do you help clients be more brave, to take leaps and try things that have never been done before? Some agencies have a knack for it but then clients for there expecting it from Droga5 or R/GA. For many mere mortal agencies it’s a real challenge. Many clients have limited budgets and want to make sure that your project will get results. When you’re presenting an idea that is innovative there are no prior examples to use as backup. So you have to anticipate the arguments that will come up in the client’s mind. If you’re doing something new with technology try creating a prototype or demo to show something is feasible (this is how we sold another project to the same client which was a huge success). Your client’s priority is not being brave but selling cars, toothpaste, computers or whatever. Put yourself in their shoes and show how bravery can also lead to amazing results. Don’t just expect the client to feel the same way you do.

The fact is, you’ll probably lose more battles than you win. As a creative person you are the one that needs the most bravery. Not to come up with groundbreaking ideas but to see them burn down in front of you – only to come back later and haunt you. So I will leave you with this, another painful episode involving an idea we tried to sell to the same client and failing – then seeing it done a year later.


October 27, 2009

How to be a good (digital) client


In his book “Confessions of an Advertising Man”, David Ogilvy devotes chapter 4 to the subject of clients and gives them some advice about how to be a good one. He says that bad advertising can unsell a product but often this catastrophe is the fault of clients (sorry). Ogilvy said “some behave so badly that no agency could produce effective advertising for them”.

The book lists 15 rules that David Ogilvy would obey if he were a client dealing with an agency. Do these rules apply to clients dealing with agencies in our digital world? Let’s check…

1 – Emancipate your agency from fear.

Ogilvy said, “frightened people are powerless to produce good advertising”. The digital revolution in advertising has generated more fear than empty pizza boxes after late night deadlines. Everyone has been afraid. From the early days of “if we build it will they come?” to the current extreme of all traditional media being on its deathbed (it isn’t). As a client of agencies developing digital campaigns you should be able to trust their knowledge and abilities to execute an idea flawlessly. This is no longer a new media. You don’t need to be afraid so there is no need to make your agency afraid either.

Of course the digital medium is still evolving and new techniques are appearing all the time. Clients could insist on following tried and tested paths but if you really want to stand out you need to put aside fear and take the leap with your agency. As Alex Bogusky of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky said, “if you have to be afraid of something, then fear mediocrity”.

A great example of fearlessness? Philips Carousel >

2 – Select the right agency first

In his book David Ogilvy suggests that clients find out if they like the people at the agency as the relationship “has to be an intimate one, and it can be hell if the personal chemistry is sour”. He also looked at the pros and cons of big agencies vs. small ones.

The Cannes Cyber Lions this year has shown that the “traditional” agencies have caught up with the pure digital players in their ability to deliver amazing work online. As the playing field becomes level clients will find it harder to judge agencies by their technical or creative skills. More agencies are spending time expressing their individuality by how they project themselves online. The new site from Crispin Porter + Bogusky brings to the forefront what the world is saying about them and the work they do. Even the opinion of the interns is used to show how different the agency is from anyone else.

In the same way that the “traditional” advertising industry had its stars we now have the digital celebrities who play a key role in making clients feel confident about their agency choice. All this adds up to the chemistry clients are looking for today.

3 – Brief your agency very thoroughly indeed

“The more your agency knows about your company and your product, the better job it will do for you” said Ogilvy. In the digital world this is more true than ever since a client might brief his agency to create a campaign but, knowing the client’s business, the agency could come back with something radically different. Maybe they’ll respond with a service like Fiat’s Eco Drive or a platform such a Nike +.

4 – Do not compete with your agency in the creative area

“Why keep a dog and bark yourself?” Ogilvy complained about backseat drivers and while this may be true things are less clear in digital realm. Creativity and technology have merged so much that the traditional idea of “creative” is less distinct. Yes, clients should let agencies do what they know best – come up with great creative solutions. But a client that comes along with a smart technical innovation could be helping to spark an idea for campaign that the agency may not have explored otherwise. For me the best clients are collaborators.

5 – Coddle the goose who lays the golden eggs

As David points out many clients spend years developing a new product but give their agency just a few weeks to put together a campaign that will present it to the world. In many ways the way a product is marketed owes as much to its success as the product itself. If clients could involve communications agencies soon enough in the process then perhaps the product launch could stronger. Bring the agency into the loop earlier and they might lay a golden egg that shines a little brighter.

6 – Don’t strain your advertising through too many levels

Committees do not make for powerful ideas with a single-minded vision and executed in a creatively unique way. It was true then and it is still true today. As Ogilvy said, “hydra-headed clients present insoluble problems.

Within a client organization there should be one clear leader who can cut through the crap and give the agency one voice. The digital world makes it too easy to share work in progress with every stakeholder from Tokyo to Texas. Input can be useful but there comes a point when you need to ask if too many cooks are watering down a big idea. Being bold is always better than appearing mild.

Take a break from this long blog post and watch this parody video about designing the stop sign shows what happens when too many people throw in their opinions:

7 – Make sure that your agency makes a profit

While advertising spend online may even be overtaking TV in some countries it doesn’t always mean that agencies are seeing the benefit. There is still a problem convincing some clients about how much it costs to develop online communications. Their kids know how to build a website so this somehow makes them believe it is a piece of cake.

Building complex campaigns costs money and unless clients understand the work involved and the value agencies bring the results will suffer. Hopefully the days are over when clients blindly accept a million dollar budget for a TV spot but question just a fraction of that being spent online. When agencies make a profit and can afford to hire talented people clients will see their campaigns improve in creativity and effectiveness.

8 – Don’t haggle with your agency

David Ogilvy suggested that clients trust their agencies about the cost of projects and not haggle. Just like old-school advertising, digital is not an exact science although it is getting there. If your agency recommends testing then take their advice. Digital campaigns are much more complex than traditional you need time to fix problems. Skip that to save money and it could end up costing a lot more in lost customers and reputation.

9 – Be candid, and encourage candor

“Don’t beat around the bush” as Ogilvy said. Clients need to speak their mind without being so brutal that they “paralyze the troops”. Be clear about what your expectations are or otherwise the agency will be playing a guessing game. With all the tools available to us today there is no excuse for poor communication between clients and agencies.

10 – Set high standards

Expect more and you’ll get it. Don’t forget to praise your agency when they do well but always ask them to do even better next time. When you can access all the best campaigns online (with sites like Contagious, AdAge or Campaign) it is even easier to find examples of what your agency needs to beat. Hopefully your agency would have seen them already too and are already pushing themselves to do better.

11 – Test everything

Digital advertising and marketing is data driven so it’s easy to know when something has worked or not. Ogilvy was a great believer in testing. Testing promises, media, headlines, frequency, images… One of his most famous quotes is “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving”. Today we can test while a campaign is running online and adapt it as we go. We can test multiple versions, change a call-to-action on the fly… a campaign never needs to be finished. It may always remain in perpetual beta.

12 – Hurry

No worries there. Very early on it seemed that clients felt that because it was digital it took less time than traditional media. While sometimes it can be a bit rushed there is a real need for speed in our industry. If your agency has a great idea then help them get it out there quickly. That includes the internal approval process clients go through. If you are not quick someone else will steal your thunder and do something online that makes you look more like a follower rather than a leader.

13 – Don’t waste time on problems

In his book Ogilvy advised clients to “concentrate your time, your brains, and your advertising money on your successes”. Even though digital media is no longer a new kid on the block there is still an element of experimentation. If you invested in Second Life then take what you learned and move on. Not all developments pan out. Watch the video of George Bodenheimer,
President of ESPN speaking at the 2008 Verge conference and see how his approach to leaving failures behind helped ESPN be a digital leader.

genius14 – Tolerate genius

Yes, they can be disagreeable as Ogilvy pointed out (he wouldn’t use the word assholes) but they can lay golden eggs. There are not that many around but if you can tolerate the ones you find then what they come up with could put your brand on the digital map.

15 – Don’t underspend

The last point in the book’s chapter urges clients not to skimp on budget. David said that “it’s like buying a ticket three-quarters of the way to Europe; you have spent some money, but you don’t arrive.” Great ideas don’t have to be expensive and digital campaigns often cost a fraction of the budget of a traditional media campaign. But if an idea calls for a higher investment then try to find the money. The results will be worth it.

Want to read the book that inspired this blog? Click below to buy from Amazon.

Confessions of an Advertising Man

August 31, 2009

How to keep (digital) clients


Back to the inspiration for this blog, David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man. Over time I’m looking at every chapter of his book and updating it for the digital age we live in. When writing about how to keep clients David says that the “seven-year itch is not confined to matrimony. It also afflicts the relationship between advertising agents and their clients”. When clients get bored with an agency they start looking elsewhere. Then if the worst happens and the agency loses the business they have to fire people who worked on that client. As David said, “advertising is probably the least secure of all careers”.

How do you hold onto your clients? Firstly by putting the best brains you have on the business and making sure they don’t neglect the client. It does help (as David says) to avoid clients with a record of regularly changing agencies. He also recommends keeping in contact at every level of a client’s organization with counterparts building strong relationships between client and agency. Something that should be a lot easier today thanks to email, Linkedin and intranets.

In today’s digital age there are other things to do if you want to keep your client coming back. Make sure you know more about the industry than your client. Sounds obvious but several times I’ve seen clients bring up some new technology or online campaign during a meeting that the agency has not seen. It’s hard to know everything that happens in our business but by creating an agency culture of research and sharing you can be sure that at least someone in your team knows something your client doesn’t. We need to continually inspire our clients by sending them reports of what’s new, how various trends are developing and what their competitors are doing. If budgets allow you can organize an event like the recent Digital Souk produced by Ogilvy London that showcased the latest digital developments.

angrymanOne thing guaranteed to generate discontent in clients is a disappointing experience with a campaign. When digital projects kick off it is so important to manage expectations. Some clients have trouble imagining the end product so do what is necessary to make them understand. Animated storyboards, white sites, customer journeys… they all help to guide the client to an understanding of what they are going to end up with. See how much planning went into the Get the Glass game to help the client understand how it would work. Add the fact that many digital productions are just one part in a bigger integrated campaign and things get more complex. This white paper from Creativity and HP has some great case studies on how projects were handled and clients made very happy.

Be careful what you say about clients or campaigns. I’ve heard stories of clients leaving meetings at an agency and riding the elevator with junior creative teams who they did not know. The junior guys (not knowing who these people were) starting ranting about how the client sucked. The business went down the elevator and out of the door. Today it is even easier for someone in the agency to vent their feelings online. Make sure your staff don’t blog or tweet their unhappiness because your client might end up seeing it.

Finally, David Ogilvy was proud to say that he used all his client’s products as a sign of respect and belief in their quality. When working on the Intel business years ago we could not present a mockup of a new website if it was framed in a Mac browser window (before Apple started using the devil’s chips). You may not be able to afford some of your client’s products but try to be as passionate about them as they are. When your client feels that you genuinely care about what you’re selling he won’t go looking elsewhere in a hurry.

June 25, 2009

How to get clients in a digital age


Getting back to the original inspiration for this blog, the David Ogilvy book Confessions of an Advertising Man, the next chapter I should really cover is “How to get clients”. I saw an interesting example of attracting clients when I was working in London during the 80s. My boss, a stunningly attractive and brilliant lady I won’t name, stood up at the end of a new business meeting with a client. Her skirt fell off revealing her underwear in what only can be described as a Benny Hill moment. She was mortified – the client… delighted. I’m not saying that’s a good way to get clients but I guess in today’s economy all tactics are welcome.

When he started, Ogilvy would tell new employees that “ this is a new agency, struggling for its life. For some time we will be overworked and underpaid”. With this approach he was able keep the agency running while trying to attract clients which traditionally only went with the bigger established agencies. In his book, David Ogilvy tells the story of John Orr Young (founder of Y&R) offering this advice to manufacturers in search of an agency: “It is easy to be beguiled by acres of desks, departments, and other big agency appurtenances. What counts is the real motive power of the agency, the creative potency”.

Although more than 40 years old those comments from a different age are still relevant for agencies working in the realm of digital communications. Even his description of start-ups is highly accurate when looking at today’s agencies. “The life cycle of an agency – starts by being ambitious, full of dynamite and doing great work. The years pass, the founders get rich and tired – the creative fires go out.”

No matter how big or small a digital agency is it needs to keep that hunger. Here are a few tips gathered from around the web that can help any agency get out there and attract the clients they really want:

Make it personal

Clients want to know the people who will be working on their business. Chemistry is important when selecting a digital agency. It is important for clients to understand who will be managing your account and in particular what their level of experience is. People in the digital marketing business are usually a passionate bunch and anyone a client meets should have that drive mixed with a good dose of common sense. Many clients can be wary after their earlier experiences online. They still remember the dot com days when over-enthusiastic agencies sold them seats on the latest bandwagon. Many clients want vision but wisdom is just as valued.

Know their business

Ogilvy wrote, “There is no excuse for not knowing a client’s business. Use the product or find someone who does. Look at the ads and other marketing materials they have created: theme lines, logos, signs, telemarketing scripts, brochures, videos, catalogs, newsletters, Web sites, direct mail letters, postcards, posters, and even postcard mailers”. A powerful agency asks questions, listens to answers, engages in tireless research, and never stops learning.

Be neutral

Don’t try and sell a purely digital campaign to a client if you believe that traditional media would do a better job. Talk about powerful ideas that answer business needs rather than the latest cool techniques.

Think about results

In today’s climate companies are looking for agencies that can affect sales.

Ogilvy said “I always showed prospective client the dramatic improvement that followed when Ogilvy took accounts from old agencies – in every case we have blazed new trails, and in every case sales have gone up”.

One of the key benefits of online marketing is measurability – tell clients that you will be open and transparent.

Size doesn’t matter

A smaller agency may not bother pitching for a client when bigger agencies are on the list. Talented people at the helm of small agencies are likely to have more experience than the mid-level staffers that would be assigned to your account at a big firm. Services not offered by the agency can be outsourced, and scale can be bought. It’s the attention and ideas that matter. If you are a small to medium sized organisation chances are you will not be a priority to a large agency – thus will not receive the attention your account deserves.

Go outside your comfort zone

Just because a client operates in a sector in which you have little experience doesn’t mean that you won’t be selected. Cross-pollination of ideas gained from working across a variety of industries can be a real benefit. Every industry is unique, but they all share common characteristics. Often what we learn serving a client in one industry triggers a fresh idea for a client in another.

Does the client know what he needs?

When you meet your client you should try to find out quickly if he really knows what he wants. If not you’ll be trying to hit a moving target.

Are they looking for an agency that can develop strategy or just be an expert at execution? Does he seek company that likes to have fun or one that’s all business? Someone to take orders or someone who will challenge their thinking?

Know more than your client. Follow the latest trends and have an opinion about them

It’s hard to be an expert in everything but clients are expecting digital agencies to know more than they do. Key trends in digital marketing are emerging all the time. Ensure that the people in your agency are up to date with the latest trends. Make sure they know how to develop these trends – for example social networking and blogging. This way you can stay one step ahead of your competitors. Make sure you’re engaging with some of the more popular emerging digital media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, widgets, video, mobile, new types of banners etc.  Know all about brand platforms underpinned by technology such as Nike+ where technology and utility are used as the backbone in building brands.

Digital thinking doesn’t stop at the computer so has your agency embraced mobile, in-store and out-of-home as essential components of digital lifestyle?

Agency staff should at least be engaging with the new media and technologies to be able to best advise their clients. Who is blogging in your organization or speaking at events?

Practice what you preach

If you are offering your marketing or design services to a client make sure that your own company shows how to do it right. Does your staff utilize new technologies and media? How does you agency use digital marketing to build your brand, connect with clients and the industry or attract new clients and staff?

One final tip from David Ogilvy – Don’t hide the “chinks in your armour”. If you try to claim expertise in an area where you lack the skill you’ll be quickly found out. Better to play on your strengths then find the right partners to fill in the gaps. That way your client gets a tailor-made team for his needs rather than having to make do with the skills you have in-house.

Clients want to be wowed with ideas and intelligence. I once tried to win a pitch with a confetti bomb hidden in the room that exploded at a key moment in the presentation. The ceiling came down and we didn’t win. Great thinking doesn’t need explosions. A great agency will blow a client away with smart ideas delivered by passionate & motive team of digital experts.