Oh, it's a hard life behind the lens. If agencies often have a tricky relationship with their clients, then pity the commercials directors who all too often get caught in the middle just at the point when they're supposed to be performing the alchemy required to turn a good script into a great ad.
How can agencies, clients and production companies work together more effectively to allow all parties to do the best job they can on a campaign?
In the latest in the series of IPA Creative Forum debates, the directors Daniel Kleinman of Large Corp and Paul Weiland of The Paul Weiland Film Company joined Charles Crisp, Lowe's head of TV, Chris Thomas, the chief executive of Proximity, and McCann-Erickson's Robert Campbell to discuss the issues.
RC "What do you feel about clients these days, Paul?"
PW "Well, in a way I have more support from clients than I do from agencies, which is interesting. It's a weird situation because it's the advertisers who want to build relationships with you and hold on to you, whereas agencies always want to move on to the next person."
DK "I don't feel that clients want to be in communication with me directly, I tend to prefer having the agency as a buffer between the two. There is a slight problem with some clients, maybe the middle-management client, who may have very preconceived ideas about what is going to make something good. but actually doesn't have any idea."
RC "So, it seems that what Paul and Danny are saying is that the agencies get in the way sometimes."
CC "It's horses for courses. There are many factors that affect the choice of director, such as money, and sometimes you have to go for new people. But I think there is a need and definitely a desire within agencies to have new directors."
CT "It's like a new toy."
PW "Advertising is about new, 'get this now', and to a degree experience is sometimes pushed aside. Maybe that is why advertising agencies don't really have the respect that they should have. It all seems a bit fashionable."
CT "Is that because we are into the MTV generation? Everything is quicker, everything is about soundbites. It is an embarrassing corporate thing on the part of the agency that things are getting very rushed. That there is no time to put things together, and no space to organise things. Also, the long-term enduring campaigns that are around are ones that were originated five or ten years ago. And, with perhaps the exception of, say, John Smith's, there aren't that many campaigns that you could look to now and say will be around in 15 years time."
DK "I take your point. Some of them run out of steam because they don't have the consistency to enjoy a long campaign. As a director you want to be there all along, and see the campaign developing. If it's reinvented every time, it isn't a consistent thing and you lose the enjoyment."
PW "And often the reason it is reinvented is because there isn't any consistency there on the client and agency side. Agencies put a different creative team in and then they want to make their mark. What tends to happen in advertising is that the client gets fed up with the campaign before the public has."
CT "I agree, the average lifecycle for an account manager is 18 months. So how do clients make a mark? They are in a job for two, maybe three, years, and what is the most public, most visible mark they can make? It is through the advertising. A lot of very good clients have built their careers around being associated with a new snazzy campaign."
RC "I think the ad business has been characterised over the past couple of years by very strict client changes and yet everyone still pursues the big long-running campaign. The cycle always starts with a new marketing director, new creative team, let's create the new campaign from now. You end up with a load of new dawns and it is no good for anyone."
DK "Another salient point is knowing when to intervene and when to stand back, you have got to know when something is being changed for the sake of it and when it helps to make a personal mark on a campaign. But experience sometimes tells you to leave well alone and not intervene."
RC "I think there are two really important elements in a big successful campaign, one of which is the idea itself. Agencies and clients are very much of the mind that they are going to take control, have a big idea. Whereas what sometimes production companies do - and I think that clients and agencies find this very scary -is a much fluffier thing which is not always easy to put down on paper. And clients don't like that because they like things to be on paper; they find it difficult to accept that Paul knows what he is doing, just let him get on with it."
PW "Unless you have a relationship with the client. I love to talk to the client, I want to know what their business is, I want them to sell their stuff, I want to be a trader for them. I want to be in contact with them, meet them face-to-face. Tell me what your problems are, tell me what your worries are whether it is Mr Sainsbury's or Mr Walkers Crisps, I need to know."
CC "I think the rise of writing treatments is a desire to get inside the head of the director. It's almost a prerequisite. We are moving towards a situation where the client will want to meet the director before signing anything off."
PW "I think that the clients have been so let down in the past that they need evidence all the time."
DK "You have to know what you are heading towards. It is about having all the information. Being told the whole picture. Not signing into something when there is another perspective somewhere else. Agencies are often scared to tell the truth. It is so important to tell them everything and for the agency to be truthful to the client.
"But sometimes on set, the way you achieve something isn't by the most obvious way of doing it. Filming, as much as everyone would want it to be, is not an exact science. You cannot write in a treatment everything that you want. What you are doing with a director is saying, 'I take on board that you are going to be able to make the right decision on the spur of the moment when all these billions of variable factors are occurring on a shoot and you know what you are trying to achieve.' You can't write that in a treatment two months in advance."
PW "And then be tied to it."
RC "The major issue here is trust."
PW "I believe in the end, the business would be more successful if there was more co-operation. Clients need to instil a lot more confidence in the agency. Production companies and creatives need to be trusted to do the job they are being employed to do."
DK "That works if the client is sussed but if that isn't the case ... it is so important to have really strong account handling people in the agency, who are able to be a buffer between the two things. And I tell you what, I don't see that very often. What happens is you get account handlers who forget what you are trying to achieve, who forget that you aren't just trying to achieve 'the client not giving you a hard time'. What you are actually trying to achieve is what the client wants, but maybe in a route that he doesn't want to go down, but which in the end will achieve what he wants. I think it would be better to say that the deadline is unworkable than to produce a campaign that is below standard. Agency account handlers are scared to say no."
CC "There has to be a certain amount of trust that we know what we are doing, we need to be able to let the process grow and evolve."
CT "For me, as an account man, the responsibility of the account man is to tightly define the core idea. If you can get that core idea then it doesn't matter if it goes beyond it as long as the idea is brought to life. So as long as there is a shared vision it should work."
PW "If there is trust and everyone believes in everyone, that feeling will come through on the screen. The client gives us their baby and says bring this into the world. It needs to be a joyous occasion, so if it is a great birth then the baby doesn't have to go through a re-birthing later on."
DK "But you cannot always do that. You cannot be 100 per cent right 100 per cent of the time."
PW "But also, if it is good on paper it will be good. So in the end you either buy into the idea and the creative or you don't buy into it."
CC "Do you find the individual gets in the way of the bigger picture?"
PW "As a director there's a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, you often have the clients whispering in the background. You have to become a kind of shrink, dealing with everyone's paranoia."
RC "Let's turn it on its head. Where do you think production companies and the industry let clients and agencies down?"
DK "By promising stuff they can't deliver. Yes, a lot of the time it is down to the economic environment; people will work for no mark-up and say yes, yes, yes. But, when it comes to it, they are being unrealistic about what is achievable. It is about being realistic about what you can achieve with the resources available, with the budget that we have, and with the timescales."
PW "I think we let them down as an industry because unless we are strong and tell them what they can't have, other corners get cut. Basically there needs to be respect on every level."
FIVE POINTS THAT WOULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Time: "It is an embarrassing corporate thing on the part of the agency that things are getting very rushed. That there is no time to put things together, and no space to organise things." - Chris Thomas
Confidence: "I think it would be better to say that the deadline is unworkable than to produce a campaign that is below standard. Agency account handlers are scared to say no." - Daniel Kleinman
Truth: "It is about having all the information. Being told the whole picture. Not signing into something when there is another perspective somewhere else. Agencies are often scared to tell the truth. It is so important to tell them everything and for the agency to be truthful to the client." - Daniel Kleinman
Trust: "Clients need to instil a lot more confidence in the agency. Production companies and creatives need to be trusted to do the job they are being employed to do." - Paul Weiland
Realism: "They are being unrealistic about what is achievable. It's about being realistic about what you can achieve with the budget and with the timescales." - Daniel Kleinman.