On the Campaign couch: how should I deal with a client's last minute demands?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: how should I deal with a client's last minute demands?

My client constantly calls for changes to my work at the last minute.

This week, it was 6pm on Friday, and a very passive aggressive tone. She’s had a good couple of weeks to get back to me; why does she think it’s acceptable to call me so late in the day?

The answer, as you should have worked out for yourself, is obvious. She thinks it’s acceptable because you always accept it. And before you get all affronted, so would every other agency.

Most agencies – and even a few of the soppier clients – like to talk about partnerships. As I’ve fruitlessly pointed out more than once in this column, an agency/client partnership is an
impossibility – unless you redefine the word. For example:

"Partnership n . The state of pretending that two parties are equal in importance, have equivalent influence on decisions and share financial gains and losses on a 50:50 basis when, in reality, one party is clearly, legally, financially and operationally the principal. Usage mainly confined to service companies anxious to ingratiate themselves with clients."

Your client is well aware of the true nature of your relationship. She knows that you need her a great deal more than she needs you. She knows that if word got out that she might be looking to replace you, she’d be on the receiving end of 50 e-mails, letters, presentations, brochures, videos and invitations: all offering to do exactly what you do, only much, much better and for much, much less.

And she knows that at least one of them probably could.

So when she demands major changes to the work in hand at 6pm on a Friday night, she knows she has nothing to lose. She knows that, somehow, by Monday morning, the changes will have been made; and that you’ll still be wearing the semblance of a smile and will offer her lunch.

Her behaviour, I fully grant you, is thoughtless, ill-mannered and against her company’s interests. But – if you dive deep enough into your reservoir of empathy – you might find cause for mitigation. There’s a good possibility that the real villain here is not your immediate client but her boss. Remote clients often have greater contempt for suppliers than those in day-to-day contact. Your client may have been asking her boss for formal approval since the beginning of the month – and has pleaded, on your behalf, for a prompt decision.

"Let them wait," he said. He’s never felt altogether comfortable with advertising agencies. They seem to enjoy themselves too much and take far too much credit when things go well.

Because the client/agency relationship is such an imbalanced one, a disproportionate responsibility for making it work falls on the agency. The only counter to the chequebook is faultless delivery and irresistible charm. So put away your resentment and try a bit of both.

PS. Warning: counterfeit charm is invariably counterproductive.

Dear Jeremy, My daughter fancies some work experience in advertising this summer. Should I ask my agency to accommodate her or do you think that would be abusing my position as a large client?

It will count as an abuse only if you take your agency’s agreement for granted. You need to make it as easy as possible for them to say no. So tell your agency that your daughter has already got a place on offer elsewhere. (And don’t you dare mention your other agencies.)

My boyfriend does not work in adland and thinks the industry is foul. Should I leave him?

If you’re struggling to find a reason for leaving him that doesn’t do terminal damage to his ego, then leave him by all means. But if you like him and would prefer to have him around for a bit, this does seem a little unreasonable. Surely you have many less toxic topics of conversation?

Before you settle for peaceful coexistence, however, you should reassure yourself on one point. It’s just possible that he claims to find adland foul in the hope of provoking a split with you in a way that doesn’t do terminal damage to your ego.

(You can probably tell that this isn’t the kind of question this column is used to answering.)

What exactly is ‘content’?

You know perfectly well. "Content" means the same as "stuff", though less precisely defined.

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