Think Your Ad Agency is Acting High and Mighty?

Think Your Ad Agency is Acting High and Mighty?

My ad agency doesn't listen to me

As a client, do you believe your creative agency is behaving all high and mighty? They knock you down with every feedback you have given them. They simply don’t listen and they just won’t do things your way.

In an interview with exchange4media, Richard Pinder, Regional Managing Director, Leo Burnett Asia Pacific had this to say:

“Clients by and large are pretty hopeless in making a difference in the creative process. Their products are fantastic and they are pretty famous but I think I will listen to the guy who gives me the creative advice. I am not saying that I am arrogant but the clients should listen to the agency, that’s why good agencies are rolling on.”

I do concede that some of us are arrogant but most of us simply want to get a great job done. And yes, there are times we do believe with all sincerity and honesty that we know more than the client, and that we are right. However, that does not mean we don’t listen. Ad agencies, design firms and even independent creative/copy folks do appreciate feedback and input from clients. Yet, we do get some inappropriate and even ridiculous instructions from our clients sometimes.

I was at the recording studio a while ago and met a veteran voice-over talent. He was lamenting that the Chinese standard here is deteriorating as people by and large have adopted English as the de facto social and business language. He shared his latest peeve on client’s obstinacy and ignorance. In his script was a word 坊 “fang”, which basically means “mall” in the copy context. This word is to be pronounced in the first intonation in Mandarin. Yet, the client insisted that he read it in the third intonation. After much explanation – to the extend of showing the client the dictionary – he turned down the job. The client refused to heed his advice, “But everyone pronounced it in the third intonation.”

I’m effectively bilingual speaking and writing both English and Chinese so I know he was definitely and absolutely right. Why did the client behave this way? It’s probably the client didn’t know any better. Or perhaps, he just wanted to go with the flow. However, many wrongs don’t make one right. As far as I’m concerned, this veteran voice-over talent had done his best.

On my way back, I was reflecting on some incidents I myself have encountered. The most recent one still makes me sigh a little.

We had written a English and Chinese copy for a client. It’s written with end-consumers in mind, carefully aligning the product with the psychography and demography of the target audience. We really believe we had the copy nailed. Sure, we expect the client to make recommendations and adjustments. And, yes, we are most willing to take his instructions and make the necessary amendments. However, NOT when the instruction actually make the copy wrong – and not just grammatically.

You tell me, is this sentence correct?

In ancient times, farmers had to brave the elements and work with meager tools

Or is this correct?

Long ago, agriculture is a tough way of life.

The first was penned by our copy writer and the second line was amended by the client. I’m definitely not Dan Kennedy (alleged the highest paid copy-writer in the world now) but I can tell you 2 stinging flaws with the second line.

1. Agriculture is not a way of life.
2. Starting the sentence with “Long ago” is like telling a story to young kids.

Did the client listen to us? No, it was published as they preferred. What do we do? How do we feel? Should we walk away from the client for not listening to us? Should we just do meekly what they want in exchange for our bread and butter? Should we simply shrug it off and like my ex-boss Chris Jordan – “cash for trash”?

One of my peers said he would like to walk away from clients who don’t appreciate what he can bring to the table. However, he has employees to feed and bills to pay so he continues working with such unappreciative clients. It’s tough choice to make but when the going gets tough, the tough will definitely have to get going. Listen to your heart.

9 Replies to “Think Your Ad Agency is Acting High and Mighty?”

  1. There are many tales and tales to narrate. I see many ads that were sheer waste of money and therefor an outright loss of great opportunities for the clients to establish themselves. The apathy is partly due to the client and partly due to the agency. It’s a tough call to lose the client, or dish out a substandard job.

    One agency head says he can do well with a copy novice than a senior copy guy (for whom he should pay more). And he says, “most of the clients are young (folks handling the brands’ sales and advertising departments), so a young copywriter can do; he can understand the client well”.

    If writing copy were that simple, why is there so few copy legends around?
    Copy-writing is a science in itself and as well as a poetry.

  2. Acting high and mighty on the part of client or agency requires a certain level of professional superiority that is earned over hard work and industry recognition. You politically correct types will argue that acting as such is uncalled for. For me it’s justified. If you’re a Tom Ford, Madonna, Philip Starc or Ridley Scott, by all means. But if, like the horrible examples that Vivienne gave us, yes those disgusting clients who don’t know their English from their left nostril can dare to correct a trained copywriter, then yes, they deserve all the high-and-mighties we should give them because it is quite clear that these nonsensical marketing skanks need to have their ego trimmed down a few kilometers. Now I know we need their dirrrty money but try as best as possible to listen to your heart and ditch these numb-nuts. Seriously folks. It’s far more demeaning than eating raw goat testicles on “Fear Factor” or wandering a few hours in your local red light district. If your soul has a price, at least make it worth the millions.

  3. When my Dad had colon cancer early last year and wanted to delay his operation after CNY, the Senior Consultant basically say a firm “NO” and throw my dad to the operating table. We did not question his “High and Mightly” attitude.

    It is interesting that some client do not see their brand as a “Life and Death” matters. And when they do, they often questioned and give instruction to the professional that hold the operating knife.

    I call them igorance and it is not a bliss. :)

  4. I believe that in many cases both sides deserve each other. Agencies who agree to work with clients of this type deserve the flack, in my mind they didn’t properly qualify the client, they just took the project…

    The client deserves some push back if they are not able to understand that they are there in part “to learn”, i kick all “control freak – know it alls” out the door to my competitors…

    In my business I make a specific effort to identify those clients willing and in fact wanting to change and therefore are open to accepting advice and guidance. That said, even though I’m the expert in the room, it’s their business decision at the end once I’ve provided them with all the options.

  5. Hi Walter
    I can resonate with “it’s their business decision at the end once I’ve provided them with all the options”

    xxx xxx

    Hi Ken
    You said some companies don’t see their brands as a “Life and Death” matter. In the first place, I wonder if they understand what’s a brand all about.

    xxx xxx

    Hi Jef
    Well said. Couldn’t help laughing at your last statement,”If your soul has a price, at least make it worth the millions.”

    xxx xxx

    Hi Solomon

    At the end of the day, we have to balance the bread & butter issue and our passion delicately.

  6. Interesting observation and one which may perhaps deserve a rejoinder from me as a sometimes “embittered” client. ;)

    Agree with you that clients need to know when to hold and when to let go. Its a question of how agencies should manage them and let them down gently without bruising their egos.

    Generally speaking, copywriting in Singapore isn’t quite honed as an art and a science. People just don’t appreciate good copy (anymore than they appreciate good design, but that’s another issue altogether). As a population, we tend to be very bottom-line driven, cut-to-the-chase and direct in our dealings with each other. This is unfortunately reflected in the bulk of our advertising.

    Accountability is another issue because often the marketing staff in client organisations are held responsible for poor advertising performances by their bosses. This makes them extra “hands on” even when the occasion calls for a little creativity and a little loosening of the reigns of control.

    Well, perhaps one way to overcome this issue of client imperialism is to win over their confidence and trust from the onset. Show that you do know your Ps and Qs, and that you are adept at wordsmithing on the fly.

    Another trick which I find useful is to involve your clients from the onset of the process so that he or she has a sense of ownership. Hopefully, that can improve the level of trust and empowerment that a client provides to you.

  7. painfully true…when we say “good client”, most of the time it means someone who has a huge budget, pays on time and has a smile on his face…but how often do we come across clients who are creatively stimulating?…so “cash for trash” then….carry on

  8. Hi Bipz
    Yes, it is painful, isn’t it? With the economic winter storming, such painful cases aren’t likely to stop. It becomes our responsibility to educate our clients no matter how tough.

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