Editorial: Is there a pattern behind great client marketers?

A few years ago, someone compared the job tenure of the average marketing director with that of a Premiership football manager. The findings: excluding the long-serving Sir Alex Ferguson from the equation, Premiership bosses remained in their jobs longer than most marketing chiefs.

Agencies have consistently paid heavily for the high level of churn among clients. Too many here today, gone tomorrow marketing directors have swept in like hurricanes, turned things upside down to little effect and moved on to wreak havoc elsewhere. Such is the nature of the business that some of these poseurs were able to chase headlines rather than sales for too long before they were rumbled.

But if most people agree on what makes a client from hell, is there also a common thread linking the best clients? The feature (page 24) profiling clients who buy great work suggests there are some common denominators.

For a start, all exude the confidence that comes with occupying high-level roles for long periods and possess extensive knowledge of their sectors. Not only do they know instinctively what will and what will not work, but they are comfortable enough in their positions to be brave and to encourage their agencies to be likewise. Unlike many junior marketers, they do not use research like a drunk uses a lamp-post - for support rather than enlightenment.

Just as Anthony Simonds-Gooding, the ex-Whitbread marketing chief, bought Heineken's "refreshes the parts" campaign when all the research suggested to do so was madness, so his modern equivalents also trust their intuition.

What's more, none try to behave like admen manque. All are enthusiastic about the creative process, understand how vital it is to their business, and retain a close involvement in the development of their advertising.

Of course, there's a fine line between close involvement and meddling.

The best clients know when to step back and give the creatives their head and when to push them to be more bold.

At a time when the real power has been swinging towards the client procurement specialists and a risk-averse culture prevails, agencies are looking as never before for clients who are as inspirational as they are supportive.

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