On the Campaign couch: How to confront a client about their work quirk
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How to confront a client about their work quirk

Some of the best briefs in the world can be scribbled on a Post-it note, writes Jeremy Bullmore. But only if the scribbler is a genius.

Our new client sends out briefs on a Post-it note. I know some of the best briefs can be written on just one page. But this is a Post-it note! Even my creatives who normally have no patience for anything much longer than a page want more than what is scribbled on 3x3 inches of coloured paper. What do I say to this new client?

Some of the best briefs in the world can be scribbled on a Post-it note but only if the scribbler is a genius. Or an exceptionally talented account planner.

Your new client seems to be neither: just work-shy. But, it being a new client, I assume you’re keen to impress. (This is not to imply that you treat older clients slightly less attentively, though you probably do. I’m afraid it’s the way of the world.)

I suggest that you personally or your account planner amplify your client’s Post-it notes to the point where they provide adequate guidance for your creatives – and then pass them back to your client for approval.

I doubt if he (I just can’t imagine a woman being so shiftless) will give them more than a cursory glance before signing them off with his fancy signature. (How do I know he has a fancy signature? Because I’ve come across his type before and they always do.)

You’ll both earn his gratitude and retain enviable control over the nature and direction of the work. (If the work doesn’t work, however, you may soon find yourself looking for a replacement new client.)

I am a mid-level marketer working for a legacy brand with a long history. Our sales have been falling for years and anyone with any insight can see that we simply do not chime with today’s consumers in the same way. I want to argue for an extensive overhaul of our proposition, but the culture in the company is very conservative. Should I speak up or look for a job somewhere else?

I’m glad you’ve dismissed the option of keeping your head down and taking the money; that’s a deeply unsatisfactory way to spend 40-something hours a week. If you ever waver, just cast your mind forward another 30 years to your retirement party: that should give you the shivers.

But before you brush up your CV, make sure you’ve done a proper audit of your company’s second-level executives. It seems highly unlikely that, as a mid-level marketer, you’re the only person with enough insight to spot the brand’s evident failings.

It’s much more likely that there’s an old-time, repressive chief executive whose very presence stifles constructive comment and keeps modernisers muted.

So before you stick your head above the parapet and get promptly decapitated, see if you can identify a few of those waiting in the wings and make common cause with them. It may not be as heroic as a lone stand, but it’s a great deal more likely to have a happy ending.

I’m really starting to lose patience with potential clients who are not upfront about their marketing budgets ahead of a pitch. It just seems like they’re trying to get creative ideas on the cheap. We can all talk about turning down bad clients but there’s always someone who will debase themselves for the sake of a ‘win’. Is there more that agencies can do collectively other than rely on trade bodies?

I’m afraid I’m about to get lofty. I’m sorry about that, but there are times when a certain loftiness is necessary and this is one.

The client/agency relationship is not an even-handed one. It never has been and it never will be. Raging against clients who exploit their inherent advantage is utterly pointless. It will make you unhappy and very possibly induce gastric ulcers.

Ganging up against them is even more futile; it just draws attention to our essential powerlessness. Powerless groups vainly seeking unattainable solidarity end up being seen to be ridiculous.

But we don’t have to be losers. Agencies can be of inestimable value to clients – and often are. Our strength resides in our ability to make ourselves invaluable and to do so in a well-mannered way.

It seems to me to be entirely reasonable that a trade whose trade is persuasion should have enough faith in its own persuasive powers to be able to survive and prosper.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@ haymarket.com or Campaign, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP.