The agency client relationship
There’s a wonderful little yarn about Avis and DBB back in the Mad Men days, when agencies ruled and TV and Print could muster the kinds of sales that made people believe in Advertising. The post is here, but the actual Google Doc excerpt of the book Up the Organization – where the story came from is here.
The story is about how DBB agreed to work on the Avis account on the condition that Avis could not change any of the ads. They could approve them, or not approve them, but they couldn’t change them.
They couldn’t even add a logo. And if you look at the first link above, you’ll note that the Avis ad that adorns the top of the post has NO LOGO.
According to the book, one should let professionals do their job:
“Moral: Don’t hire a master to paint you a master-piece and then assign a roomful of schoolboy-artists to look over his shoulder and suggest improvements.”
And this got me thinking. Advertising people like this kind of story. Deep down, we’re all sure that if the client would just get out-of-the-way, the communications would be better. That might often be the case, but for the most part, the client agency relationship is an us versus them. Indeed, the above moral is a perfect illustration of the us versus them mentality (if only they got out-of-the-way and let the artists work…)
I’ve worked in multinational places like DDB, and I can tell you that I’ve experienced the us versus them. It even permeates to the Creative versus the Suits, where the ‘them’ are the account people (Suits) who seem hell-bent on changing creative to make it crap.
So clients should get out-of-the-way and let agencies do their job. But clearly this isn’t the case. And I think it’s because of the first point. The client does know the business better than marketers, and the client has Marketing in their title. We could trade stories about times when the client made changes to ads that the agency felt weren’t in the ads best interest. But that’s not the point of this post.
This is. Social media is turning the client agency relationship on its head. Think about it: social media is conversation, and it’s not the kind of thing that lends itself to the approval process. It takes an understanding of the brand, but also a Bernbachian trust between the client and the agency. If an agency runs the Facebook page or the Twitter feed for a client, the client can’t “approve” the script. They have to trust the people to do the job.