ANALYSIS: COMMENT - Can clients learn the true meaning of a sales pitch?

The American journalist, Maureen Dowd, wrote a wonderful column last week in which she excoriated Bill Clinton, not for his behaviour but for his corruption and perversion of language. She wrote: ’He denies that oral sex (the second word of which is sex) is sex.’

The American journalist, Maureen Dowd, wrote a wonderful column

last week in which she excoriated Bill Clinton, not for his behaviour

but for his corruption and perversion of language. She wrote: ’He denies

that oral sex (the second word of which is sex) is sex.’



This made me think about the way the use of language often reveals our

true thoughts or agendas. Take, for example, Graham Hinton’s defence of

the advertising industry on page 28 of this week’s issue. Reacting to

the charge that advertising agencies have lost the trust of clients,

Hinton writes: ’We are thought of as an industry that sells ads rather

than gives advice.’



Now, Hinton’s argument is the old chestnut about agencies being shoved

in the box marked ’implementation’ rather than the higher-value one

marked ’advice’. Mine, however, concerns the use of the word ’sells’ and

which, to my mind, is the root of the problem that Hinton refers to.



Now, I know it’s common currency in advertising to talk of ’selling’ ads

to the client - and even clients themselves talk of ’buying’ ads.



The word is used so commonly that nobody thinks about what it really

says about agencies and their attitudes to clients.



So let’s focus on the use of the word ’selling’, which to me implies

some kind of adversarial relationship between agency and client. Put it

this way: if I bought a car and then heard the salesman boasting in the

pub afterwards about how he’d ’sold’ me on it, I’d be pretty

worried.



Is this unfair? I don’t think so. After all, the most feted account men

in the business are talked of, quite unthinkingly but approvingly, as

great salesmen. Nobody ever says it, of course, but the suggestion is

that somehow the agency, which knows best anyway, has put one over the

client.



However, the fact that the account man may have sold completely the

wrong ad - and boy have we seen plenty of those - is neither here nor

there.



Their status within the agency and the industry rests on the fact that

they sold the ad. Conversely, account men who fail to ’sell’ the ad to

the client are regarded as total failures. The fact that this may have

turned out to be the right course is again neither here nor there.



So why is ’selling’ the ad so important? Well, at the end of the day,

agencies still define themselves, still derive their sense of

self-worth, from the ads they ’sell’ to clients. Their agendas dictate

that, come hell or high water, the client must buy ads at the end of the

process.



There will be those who say this is all a question of semantics. I wish

I could share that opinion. Agencies blithely talk of their desire to be

their clients’ partners, but use a language that is about anything but

partnership. As Bill Clinton is discovering, those who distort language

eventually reap their just desserts



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