A view from Dave Trott: Filling a leaky bucket
A view from Dave Trott

Filling a leaky bucket

Tucker Carlson is an American right-wing talk-show host – he makes a living by being controversial, similar to Piers Morgan.

Recently, Carlson said the biggest question facing America today was why the US military was prepared to pay for gender reassignment surgery for its personnel.

He said this was an insult to serving soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Justin King hosts a podcast refuting a lot of Carlson’s rabble-rousing.

Instead of an emotional argument, King logically addressed the reasons why the US military would pay for gender reassignment surgery.

Take pilots: it costs $5.5m to train someone (of either sex) to fly an F-16 Fighting Falcon, and it costs $10.9m to train someone to fly an F-22 Raptor.

It doesn’t matter what sex the pilot is – if they leave the air force, that’s how much it costs to train their replacement.

Obviously, that’s why the military pays serving personnel what are called “retention bonuses”.

At the end of their term of enlistment, all military personnel are free to quit.

But that means retraining their replacements, which is not only expensive, it means the service isn’t always in combat readiness.

So personnel are encouraged to stay on by the incentive of a cash bonus, over and above their regular salary.

In the case of pilots, this cash bonus can be up to $420,000 to sign on for another term.

So the United States Air Force thinks it makes more sense to retain experienced pilots (whatever their sex) than to constantly retrain replacements.

The number of people wanting gender reassignment surgery is statistically insignificant, and it’s important to keep trained and experienced people in the military.

So what can we in advertising learn from this kind of thinking?

Well, in our business, it’s called “churn”: the rate of acquisition against the rate of loss.

Clients leaving versus clients staying – think of it as a leaky bucket.

Most agencies concentrate on new business, filling the bucket.

But if the water is leaking out of the bucket faster than we can fill it, pretty soon we’re going to have an empty bucket.

In other words, our agency will go out of business.

How most people in advertising answer that problem is to try to fill the bucket as fast as possible – they become fixated on new business.

They put all their attention on gaining new clients.

This means they pay less attention to the clients they’ve got and the work they do for them.

They lose interest in existing clients and they leak out via the holes in the bucket.

I was always taught (by the very best account men) that it’s FOUR times harder to win a new client than it is to hold on to an existing one.

So that’s a pretty stupid way to run a business.

You’d be shrinking faster than you could grow.

Doesn’t it make more sense to plug the holes in the bucket?

Bill Berbach said: “The best new-business tool any agency can have is the work it does for its existing clients.”

Because that not only keeps them happy, it makes the clients you don’t have envious and they want the agency that did that advertising.

You win both ways: when you’re advertising your clients, you’re advertising yourself.

Unfortunately, agencies seem to have forgotten the first part of that equation.

Now agencies are only interested in advertising themselves.

Once an account is won, it passes to the B team, while the A team go back to new business.

Well, if you ignore your existing clients, they become someone else’s new business.

Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three