Trust that the best ideas will attract the best clients
A view from Ian Darby

Trust that the best ideas will attract the best clients

It took years to develop the music/chin-stroking correlation. Over time, it became extremely well-honed. The other week, the whole theory collapsed.

The correlation is this: the more noodly, downbeat and introspective the live music act, the larger the proportion of the audience that is locked in a weird static chin-stroking posture sadly redolent of a middle-aged man on an Audi forecourt.

This unravelled at a recent gig by the Irish indie troubadours Villagers, who occasionally make Nick Drake resemble The Who. The reason was simple: groups of female Villagers fans upset the maths by virtue of not having noticeable beards, stubble or beer bellies to stroke. The women in the audience focused instead on having a good time. Laughing, smiling and even, shock horror, dancing. There was little overall correlation between the music and the chin-stroking propensity of the crowd. The equilibrium of the usually male-dominated nod-pit was destabilised.

Smaller advertisers all too often use a pitch as an ideas-foraging exercise ahead of hiring on the basis of cost

The experience sent me back to the drawing board. Something that will also need to be considered when assessing how clients select agencies. Over time, I’d developed the well-honed, but clearly erroneous, idea that there is a clear correlation between strong creative performance and new-business success.

It’s clearly not the case, though, because, right now, if I were a client, I’d be giving all my business to agencies that haven’t troubled the new-business league of late. JWT London, in particular, stands out.

The agency has created some of the best ads of recent weeks: HSBC "the legendary journey" and the Army "live" and "boots" commercials have been real highlights. I also rate its First Direct campaign: it’s brave and stands out in the category. Over time, this track record should translate into new-business success, but there is no guarantee.

Probably because it would be wrong-headed to assume that creative and ideas always win pitches. This might be the case in some large-scale pitches but, all too often, mid-sized and smaller advertisers use the process as an ideas-foraging exercise ahead of hiring an agency on the basis of cost or chemistry.

This is all the more pronounced in media, where ideas rarely win pitches. Oddly, the "ideas bit" is a hygiene factor that supports an agency’s cost submission rather than the other way around.

The conclusions from this are depressing for agencies, but those with a strong creative showcase should just continue to press their case and work with intermediaries to avoid unsuitable opportunities. With clients moving to increasingly penurious payment terms, taking on a client that doesn’t respect your idea is about as much fun as standing next to me at a gig.