Any credentials presentations worth the name will eventually tease
out of the prospect their reason for looking around. And no-one is
gullible enough to believe that they’re doing it just to ’see what’s out
The grass may always be greener, but invariably it comes to look that
way because your own lawn is looking a bit parched.
What interests me is that the quality of the advertising is surprisingly
rarely cited as a problem. All too often I am told that it’s the
relationship that simply isn’t working: ’they don’t listen’, ’they don’t
understand me’, ’they don’t seem interested any more’. Lines like this
should belong more to B-movies than to new-business meetings.
Of course, great work and, consequently, great business, will invariably
allow clients to overlook any pain in the delivery process. But all too
often agencies - all agencies - produce work that is slightly less than
great. It’s then that the relationship becomes so critical.
So, why is it that we find it so hard to listen? Sometimes I think it’s
because we still confuse listening with having no view of our own.
We’ve all been trained to believe that supinely giving the client what
they want is a huge mistake and, of course, it is.
But frequently that seems to be taken to be a reason for utterly
refusing to understand the real issues or the business environment in
which the resulting brand communications are going to have to work.
What do we mean by ’the client’ anyway? It’s all too often an
Do we mean the brand manger, the marketing director, the CEO? What about
other key stakeholders like the sales director, production people,
financial director and so on?
It’s only by really understanding the full context, and listening hard
to the subtext, that an agency can even begin to develop a relevant
Listening is the ultimate demonstration of respect for the views and
opinions of others. We moan and groan about how our clients have lost
respect for agencies. But if we demonstrated our respect for their
expertise, perhaps they’d show more for ours.
Much of what the best agencies do at the strategic stage involves
rapidly assimilating as much relevant data as they can get their hands
on. We spend thousands of pounds on listening to consumers and analysing
vast tracts of research data, but we frequently ignore the received
wisdoms and knowledge of those who are closest to the business.
The best clients may not know how to write an ad, or even an ad
strategy, but they certainly know their business. And it is astonishing
what little use many of us make of that obvious fact.
So, while it’s undoubtedly true that clients come in for a credentials
presentation for a variety of reasons, I’m absolutely certain that a lot
of pitches would never happen at all if the incumbent had spent just a
little more time in receive mode, and a bit less time transmitting.
William Eccleshare is the chairman of Ammirati Puris Lintas.