A smart salesman that I know once blew my mind with this simple statement:
We train clients to expect what they expect.
It's a simple truth.
Clients can ask for a campaign to be turned around in a day
or five different 'routes'
or a TV commercial to be made for way less than it should really take
or a photo shoot on a pittance
or for changes that make the work worse
or for excruciatingly small fees from the agency.
They can ask for what they want. It is a free world.
But it is only when agencies say yes to these things, only when agencies and agency staff are complicit, that these requests, and this behaviour, is given credibility.
Agreeing to do it endorses the request.
That is how clients have been trained to expect all of the unreasonable and harmful things that have become part and parcel of advertising for most people at most agencies.
It is because there are always enough agencies and people out there willing to say yes to the next unreasonable demand.
I'll be honest here - we spend an unbelievable amount of energy here at Sell! Towers managing the process of not agreeing to the kinds of things listed above. It's the harder road. It's much easier in the short term to say yes.
And we know that many agencies out there are saying yes.
But, we are honest with out clients about our high fees up front - and we know that some clients who wanted to work with us have walked away because of that - we can live with that.
It means the ones who work with us, value us.
We resist changes and amendments to work that we believe will make it less good, that takes a lot of managing and takes time, energy and skill to build relationships with clients strong and respectful enough for that to be possible, but we think it's worth it.
We don't work to piss-take schedules, we don't make people work weekends and through the night to meet them.
We don't take the piss out of suppliers by passing on unreasonable cost requests, or by hammering them unreasonably just because a job is a 'creative opportunity'.
We don't churn out work to meet a set number of routes, or as cannon fodder. We only work on things that we think will be the solution.
In short, we do all of the things that we think it takes to be a creative agency of integrity, with standards and professionalism, and with respect for those we work with.
But it's becoming increasingly obvious that there are tons of agencies out there who will literally do whatever they're asked to gain or keep a piece of business.
On a level, it's understandable. The advertising market is massively over-supplied. This means that some people become increasingly desperate to win business.
Small agencies trying anything to compete.
Other kinds of businesses - like digital specialists, pr firms, and production companies - trying to get in on the advertising budgets.
And network agencies, pushed by pressure from afar to gain and retain clients at all costs.
They all have their reasons.
It's understandable, but it's not excusable.
And yes, we are lucky, because we are masters of our own destiny, so to speak. We can make these choices.
But we have made the choices not to become a lowest common denominator agency, not to compete on price, speed and how often we can say yes.
And the result is, we work with the kind of clients who value that. We have a great group of clients, but it takes a lot of work, and effort and time to build those relationships of trust and respect.
And it often seems like the number of clients who want an agency like that is reducing - so much so that these days we openly say that we're the "Creative agency for the 1%" of clients.
And we're okay with that.
It works for us.
But it's funny when you hear agency people complaining about clients' behaviour and expectations.
They blame it all on the client. Yet their own agency endorses those requests by agreeing to them.
The simple fact is, while there are enough agencies out there that will agree to the unreasonable, the unreasonable will always be expected.
If clients aren't made to realise the something is unreasonable, how are they expected to know that it's unreasonable?
No one made out it was unreasonable. They asked, and someone said yes.
Or in other words, as my friend rightly said: We train clients to expect what they expect.