Feature

Me and my client

What is the secret to a long-lasting and mutually beneficial adlander/client relationship? Four of the most successful duos tell their stories of working together through thick and thin and the importance of a good first impression.

SIMON SHERWOOD, BARTLE BOGLE HEGARTY / SIMON CLIFT, UNILEVER

Fifteen years is a long time. In that time, a new-born baby can reach puberty, you can grow your finger nails by 26cm or you can serve a life sentence for murder - as long as you get out early for good behaviour.

You get the feeling from the blokey, piss-taking, banter-filled relationship between these two Simons that if you mentioned the final statistic, there'd be a mad rush to use it to make a joke about killing the other one. But after 15 years together, you have to expect a bit of banter.

The relationship is by far the longest running in this feature and because of that, it is the one that has had the biggest impact on a) the pair's respective businesses and b) their respective careers.

Since Clift, Unilever's chief marketing director, first handed Bartle Bogle Hegarty the Lynx account in 1994 - "the problem child to test their mettle", he says - the agency has gone on to scoop millions of pounds worth of business and expanded internationally, while the Unilever man has risen from UK marketing director to one of the world's best-known marketers.

Sherwood, the global chief executive at BBH, says: "Unilever was a different beast and Simon represented a younger, more creatively sensitive animal - he encouraged us to be braver."

Clift jokes: "In the early days, they were the mistress - now they're the old wife. We're still happily married, though."

Despite that, they share the fewest face-to-face meetings, with Sherwood scheduling just four a year. But the pair both strongly believe that a structured business relationship keeps things fresh and interesting.

"We can have dinner and still have fun without losing things to talk about," Sherwood says, though he adds that a personal relationship complicates things and puts a strain on the open honesty that it should thrive on. "There might be difficult things to be said but we can always say them - a personal relationship would jeopardise that," he says.

Clift jokes that he's only still in the relationship because he's scared of Sherwood and that he actually fired BBH three years ago but doesn't have the balls to tell them. On a serious note, he adds: "A personal relationship is no excuse for doing sub-standard work. It's repulsive when people do sub-standard work because of that." He's leaving it to the reader to work out which other famous long-term relationship he's talking about. "I wouldn't have Simon out on my yacht, anyway."

Clift admits starting work with BBH was a turning point in his career. "I expected a load of right-on, coke-snorting eccentrics but found a lot of self-disciplined, self-employed talent. Simon was a gruff old bastard, though," he laughs.

With some 15-year relationships, this sort of back-handed compliment could be construed as an insult. But it's clear to see that it's just fun admiration and that the pair are still enjoying a healthy and successful relationship.

CILLA SNOWBALL, ABBOTT MEAD VICKERS BBDO / ANDREW FENNELL, DIAGEO

Because this couple has produced a Cannes Lion Grand Prix-winning ad together, it's not surprising that Guinness' "noitulove" creeps into the conversation regularly as the high point of this long-running relationship, which is almost seven years old now.

However, neither of them were actually on the Cote d'Azur when the announcement was made. Snowball, the chairman at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, says: "I called him as I was on my way out to have a pizza and caught him as he was getting a curry."

Fennell, Diageo's chief marketing officer, adds, though, that celebrating the good times is important in their relationship and will generally be the reason they see each other outside of working hours over a pint of Guinness. Both agree that their face-to-face contact is quite sparse, less than once a quarter - the phone is used much more - unless there is a huge piece of work going through, such as "noitulove". Then both feel that their presence and their input is needed to steady the teams below them.

Snowball says: "Because of this, I think that Andrew and I now have a great insight into how we think creatively and I know that if I can't reach him with a decision on a change to an ad, I can make the call, confident he'll agree with it."

Fennell adds: "The trust builds over time. I remember seeing the first script for 'swimblack' and thinking 'why the bloody hell are we using a 75-year-old swimmer?' But I trusted their judgment and was proved right."

Trust also leads to a joint boldness, which the pair agree their relationship has fostered in the work, and which created the right environment for "noitulove".

Fennell says: "We'll both take the creative risk. In our minds, it's worth risking a three to get a ten." It's at this point that Snowball first mentions what may well be the secret to their success: Fennell's smoking.

Despite having shown him all of AMV's anti-smoking back catalogue - "to no effect", she says - she admits that most of their meetings seem to take place in the street outside Diageo's building in Henrietta Place. "They're probably the meetings that are the most crucial," she says. "The great thing about Andrew is that he's succinct with his views and this gets exacerbated when we're out in the street."

Fennell then pleads with Campaign not to mention the smoking thing because his mum will be disappointed in him. Sorry, Andrew.

LAURENCE GREEN, FALLON / PHIL RUMBOL, CADBURY

Apart from zookeepers, ringmasters or Sigourney Weaver, there aren't many people who can say, in all honesty, that a gorilla has helped their careers.

And it's a fair bet that none of these could say it was because the gorilla was playing the drums. Two people who have definitely benefited from a dextrous ape are Phil Rumbol, the UK marketing director at Cadbury, who took the sizeable risk of buying the now-famous ad, and Laurence Green, the chairman of Fallon, which came up with the crazy idea. Actually, credit where credit's due: Fallon didn't only come up with the crazy idea, it did so in the space of a week.

Rumbol says: "I was working with Publicis London on Dairy Milk and had given them one last chance to crack it. With one week to go, I decided to give Laurence a call and also gave them a week - they came up with 'gorilla'."

Green adds: "I was a bit shocked. Phil's first question was: 'Are you part of the Publicis Groupe?' (Fallon is.) I know, though, he was asking out of loyalty and protocol. He's loyal to incumbent agencies."

As may be apparent, it was not the first time that Green and Rumbol had worked together - this is the third time they've found themselves in a client/agency relationship over an 11-year period.

They first met in 1998 when Green was working at Lowe on Rumbol's Heineken business. They cemented this relationship in 2003 when the marketer took over the Leffe account that Green was working on at Fallon. Green says: "Me and Phil are both professionally ambitious and when we've worked together, I've always known Phil would push the agency."

While the pair clearly enjoy working together; their past also offers them a familiarity that many don't achieve.

Green says: "Sometimes it's hard to calibrate a client's depth of feeling on something - but, with Phil, I can distinguish between an unmovable concern or when he's just disagreeing."

Mind you, despite this professional intimacy, Rumbol and Green have no real relationship outside of client/agency. They consider this a positive rather than a negative, though, because it leaves room for the pair to be open with each other.

"Of course we have disagreements over creative - Phil has a strong point of view on that stuff - but there's no reason why we'd let that interfere with the business relationship. Phil will reluctantly assert a point of view when he needs to," Green jokes.

But Rumbol adds seriously: "It's a fundamental part of our relationship that when we get to that point, we can have a conversation that says 'OK, now we can move on'." Green believes that this sets an example to the teams below them.

While the pair have made a habit of finding each other over their careers, "gorilla" was what brought them closer than ever.

"Once we'd presented it, it was the first time we hugged," Green jokes.

MARK ROALFE, RAINEY KELLY CAMPBELL ROALFE/Y&R / STEVEN SHARP, MARKS & SPENCER

It wouldn't be overstating the issue to say that the Marks & Spencer story has been one of the most successful case studies in recent advertising history.

With award-winning work, both creatively and in the effectiveness stakes, and a huge turnaround in sales, the story has been largely one of success. And at the heart of this was Steven Sharp, the executive director of marketing, e-commerce, store design and development, brought in to resurrect the old beast, and Mark Roalfe, the chairman of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, whose agency handles the account. It could have all been so very different, though, if Roalfe hadn't made such a good impression in his very first meeting with the marketer in late 2003.

Sharp explains: "When I came in, M&S was a very different beast. In my mind, the advertising was one of many elements that needed changing. So, for our meeting with the agency, I wanted to shout at them. I went round there all hyped up but ended up thinking: 'I really like this guy.'"

Roalfe looks slightly relieved when Sharp says this, almost as if he's concerned that there is still a chance he could mess up that meeting and lose the account. "It was a very nervy meeting because Steven was radically changing the business - it was exciting, but very scary," he says.

Apparently, a lot of it came down to the agency being able to wow Sharp with some speedy creative executions and the quick roll-out of the "Your M&S" proposition.

Sharp is clear that the ability to rely on Roalfe (and, therefore, the agency) to put out great creative work exceptionally quickly has been the cornerstone of a relationship that is easily the closest of those featured here. In fact, when the pair are asked to outline the other's strengths, it turns into a bit of a love-in that ends with Sharp likening them to a "couple of old queens".

And where our other pairings are clear about keeping a professional/personal distance, these two have no such walls. They spend more time outside of work together than any of our other couplings.

Roalfe says: "Our kids are the same age, so they play and we talk. The personal relationship grows out of the business relationship, but the closeness then helps us integrate the businesses."

And this is where the pair see their relationship as being so important. Because of the fast turnaround of work a retail business requires, they have to ensure that their teams always know what they're up to. This is why they have a meeting every week that they both attend so they can "quality control things". It's not hard to see why M&S's marketing has been so successful.

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