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Client First; Agency Second; Yourself Third.

The following blog post has been brewing in me for a while. I realise it won’t garner me any new friends, but that’s absolutely fine. Our workplaces- if we’re very lucky- contain some wonderfully special people, but we’re here to work, first and foremost.

This topic’s theme has to do with a certain mood or rather a certain attitude that quite often permeates agency folks. Maybe it’s a sense of entitlement brought about by never having had a ‘real job’ like waiting on tables, or telesales. Maybe our ‘higher’ education makes us feel superior; maybe it’s the weird hum of the aircon; I’m not entirely sure. Newsflash: If you’re in advertising/marketing, you’re in the client service industry. Every one of us, even us creatives. The blog title here ties into this and is a kind of mantra that I truly feel needs to be adopted more in our industry. And of course, Flume is included in this.

Client first:

We serve them, not the other way around. They’re the hero of the story, we’re the silent ghost writers, if you like. Also, they pay our salaries.

Agency second:

We get to work with other very skilled humans. Opportunities we would never have by going alone or by working in other industries. There are also perks, like good coffee, pizza and bonuses to aim for.

Yourself third:

You are not indispensable, but your opinions and experiences and your value does matter. Back yourself, but leave your ego and bad attitude at the door.

In 1941, the magazine “Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers” published an interview with Kenneth B. Elliott, Vice President in Charge of Sales for The Studebaker Corporation (a now-defunct automobile company). His quote was as follows:

“It is, of course, not possible to state with any practical exactitude what the customer is. But there are several common denominators to be found when we consider the customer in terms of what he is not. These things, I think, are fundamental to intelligent customer relationship and, it may be added, most of them apply pretty well to the vast majority of prospects as well.

1. The customer is not dependent upon us — we are dependent upon him.

2. The customer is not an interruption of our work — he is the purpose of it.

3. The customer is not a rank outsider to our business — he is a part of it.

4. The customer is not a statistic — he is a flesh-and-blood human completely equipped with biases, prejudices, emotions, pulse, blood chemistry, and possibly a deficiency of certain vitamins.

5. The customer is not someone to argue with or match wits against — he is a person who brings us his wants. If we have sufficient imagination, we will endeavor to handle them profitably to him and to ourselves.

By replacing the word ‘customer’ with a term we’re more familiar with: ‘client,’ the above hits home even more (read it again).

When we were living in Edinburgh- although very beautiful, a place of frequent grey and drizzle- I used to sit at a cozy little Starbucks one or two mornings a week to work. I freelanced back then, and thus the home environment could get a little cramped. One morning, in a less than inspired mood, I watched a few guys soaked with rain and mud and waist high in a roadside pipeline beavering away with spades and picks. It was a bit of a “revelation” moment. There I was, silently festering at the thought of not feeling “fulfilled” by my day’s work ahead of me… and yet, hold on… what a privileged job I had. Warm, coffee in hand, shiny mac, working on a set of admittedly less-than-satisfactory logo marks… and getting paid. How ungrateful could I be? Compared to those guys, I’d hit the jackpot.

It is a common trait among agency folks to bemoan the all too familiar ‘client from hell.’ Yes, some are far from ideal, but have we ever stopped to think for a minute that the underlining cause could just be with you? Perhaps, you’re not skilled enough to execute the brief properly. Then up-skill yourself: read books, watch more tutorials, stay at work that little bit extra on some days and dedicate that time to learning. Perhaps you’re too shy or passive to coach the client into a particular way of thinking that’ll benefit both themselves and your team. Then get some life coaching; read up on how to be more assertive; ask someone more senior for advice. Perhaps you don’t fully understand the particular industry your client exists within. Have you ever spent two days doing a competitor analysis? How about half a day scouring through their relevant CI documents? Or perhaps, it’s as simple as taking a client out for lunch. A face-to-face can do wonders, far more than a lengthy email thread interaction.

I know we all have those days- or maybe even weeks- where we feel ground down by relentless briefs, relentless reverts, and relentless pressure, but unless you absolutely know that the advertising/marketing/design industry is not for you, then I encourage you to soldier on. Perfection is nigh impossible. Cut yourself some slack. Cut each other some slack. Cut the respective client(s) some slack. Clients are people too, oftentimes with an immense amount of pressure and KPIs from higher up the food chain. Service them; be nice; make their lives that much easier.

So to summarise: I’m sorry to be the one to say it, but you’re only third on the list. Please don’t make it all about you. If you do feel less-than-inspired or a tad underwhelmed, maybe- just maybe- you need to put yourself in the shoes of someone working waist-high in rain and mud on the side of a road for a day…

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