Why it's still all about the work
A view from Claire Beale

Why it's still all about the work

A client, a suit and a hack walk into a bar. 'Why the long faces?' asks the bartender as the morose trio haul themselves on to stools and order a round of very stiff drinks. 'I'm screwed,' they groan in chorus...

…"But at least he’s paying," laugh the client and the hack, hollowly, pointing to the suit who’s desperately emptying his pockets in search of cash.

Obviously this isn’t a joke. Sorry. Nothing funny here.

Bar bill paid, they settle down to a soul-bearing debate about the current state of the advertising industry.

The conversation takes place before WPP issues its revenue warning, before Accenture Interactive tells Campaign it plans to be the biggest experience agency in the world, before Amazon grenades supermarkets by slashing prices at Whole Foods. But already they find enough in their whisky cups to feel dystopian about.

The client (long history in FMCG) has been told by her global CMO that there must be a significant reduction in the number of agencies the brand uses around the world; some of the agencies she works with – and loves – in the UK will get the chop. They don’t know this yet.

The suit (long history in trad ad agencies) is seriously hoping to dodge her axe. He has already just lost a chunk of income because his US HQ failed to retain a big international client in a recent pitch. US HQ has, however, refused to redraw his targets to accommodate this hiccup.

The hack (long history of hacking about advertising) is worried management consultants will never be as interesting to cover as those who have graced Campaign for the past 49 years: a flea bite of a problem compared to the chunks being gnawed off the hack’s fellow drinkers.

Anyway, two drinks in and it’s obvious the client doesn’t agree with the strategy handed down by her global boss. She’s lost a lot of control and she’s about to lose many of her hand-picked agency allies. She’s worried she’ll end up with the sort of one-size-fits-all agency partnership that will drown her flair. And, hell, she says she hasn’t spent 20 years in marketing to just oversee implementation.

Three drinks in (the suit’s a fast drinker) and it’s obvious he has a lot in common with his client. This suit’s a chief exec but he feels like a middle manager. Worse, even. He’s handcuffed by his network boss, but it’s the holding company rules and regs that frustrate him more. At least the global CEO listens to his ideas and requests; the holding company will never waver from its rulebook. He wants to hire two ambitious juniors to replace one departing senior; same price, twice the energy, twice the enthusiasm, twice the determination. But twice the headcount. Holding company says no.

At this point, the evening could take a serious dive. "Three hemlock juice chasers, please, barman." But talk turns to creativity. KFC’s twerking chicken. "I bloody love it," says the client. "It’s a piece of chicken shit," says the suit. "At least we’re bothering to talk about it unlike some of the forgettable crap you two have your names on," says the hack.

And for the next hour they have a happy heated argument about The Work, about whether you can build a brand in six seconds, about whether machines will ever make spine-tingly brilliant ads, about whether Nils Leonard is a great creative, about whether great creatives will ever want to work for management consultants, about whether the word creative can really be appropriated by media buyers or data analysts ("or marketers," adds the suit).

The client, the suit and the hack can’t agree on any of this but they enjoy disagreeing. And as the suit pays the last tab, they admit that though their worlds are shitty right now, as long as there’s The Work and people who care about it, this is still a fantastically interesting business to be in. Goodnight. 

Claire Beale is the global editor-in-chief of Campaign.