A view from James Murphy

Perspective: Clients don't want adlanders to lose their specs appeal

Last week, I was finishing a creds presentation to a particularly gruff client.

Leaning over to shake my hand, he thanked me curtly and said: "I knew you worked in an agency the moment you walked in with your big chunky glasses on." Initially, I felt a bit stung, a walking cliche adman etc, and retorted quickly that these are prescription glasses, prescribed by my wife for a fat face: "Wear these chunky glasses, darling, and your face will look less chunky."

His comment got me thinking: should admen be obviously different from their clients?

Many agencies are now at pains to convince their clients they are just like them - just as responsible, just as grown-up, just as quantitatively rigorous and just as wardrobed at Reiss. The risk here is obvious. Keep telling your client you are no different from them and they will rightly wonder why they don't do your job themselves.

At least there's sartorial hope, though. Witness the recent Esquire best-dressed awards, where the likes of Sir John Hegarty showed that adland can still be different and dashing. And, let's be honest, it's not too hard to "look agency" - there are easy stereotypes we can play to.

Experience shows clients will be reassured by a planner with fawn cords and no social skills. They'll feel he spends his evenings at home, eating fish and developing an enormous brain.

I like account men to look sharp and be smooth, but within limits. I once saw a senior suit lean over the table, sniff the female client and say: "Mmm, is that Poison by Dior?" That's not smooth; that's oily.

Creatives are the most tricky.

Too often, dressing creatively is confused with dressing like a very dim teenager. They are not the same thing. Having "Fuck" written on your T-shirt does not make people think you are an artist. Clients pay good money to have a special mind working on their business and rightly want to sense that that mind is special. Dressing in skate trainers in your fifties is special, but in the way that Forrest Gump is special.

Perhaps, now that everyone is smart casual, the mark of creativity is not in the clothes. I once worked with a smelly director. He made our eyes sting, but we were impressed. The stench seemed like pure creativity rising off him.

Obviously, beneath all the window dressing, there has to be good work, but if you like your clients and it makes them happy, why wouldn't you dress up for them?

A classic "silly season" perspective, perhaps, but you have to ask yourself: why does Innocent smoothies keep dropping its agencies? With its own banana telephone and office full of Vans-wearing casuals, perhaps, deep down, it feels it's more agency than its agencies.

- James Murphy is a founding partner of Adam & Eve.

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