When I first started as a Creative Director in Pharmaland I had to present some ideas to one particular client. He was new in the role too, just flown in from America, very senior and everyone was in awe of him.
This meeting was a big deal. So I duly gathered my shiniest and cleverest ideas and set off for their shores.
It was not a great success.
Looking back, my first mistake was to treat it like a presentation in consumer, thinking my background in big consumer brands was enough to impress. Back then I hadn’t really learned the different dialect that people speak in these parts, or indeed the correct amount of humility in what was a new advertising territory for me. At the time I thought he was an idiot, (obviously) but now I have a different perspective.
The next round I thought I was closer.
The look of bewilderment grew ever more fixed the more I spoke.
Another round of creative later and it was made clear through the available channels that I was not to come to any more meetings. I just rubbed him up the wrong way and my ideas were awful.
Upon my exit, I was sure he leaned in to an intercom on his desk, pressed a button and and whispered ‘kill him’ in a sinister Russian accent.
Now, I am not saying that every meeting I ever have is a bed of roses (I wish), but this level of failure was new territory. This was abject, and what made it even more shameful was that, awful as it is to admit, I thought we were getting along fine.
However I was reassured that account people have this kind of thing all the time. I guess they must, I mean you guys get paid to put up with it, but this was me we were talking about!
Oh I know, get over yourself Olly.
But this boycott presented a problem in a small agency.
It’s not always easy to just take the CD out of the picture and replace him/her with a stand in. At the time, I was the creative department, at least in terms of concepting.
The solution was to draft in a senior creative ‘honcho’ from the US to front the agency in creative terms and soon enough they seemed happier. They could talk about baseball and beefburgers and, oh I dunno, American stuff.
I was still going to be doing the work, the USA CD would just present and show up a couple of times a year. All would be happy.
This was not exactly a satisfactory set of circumstances but we needed to keep the business and we felt we could make it work. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, how could I have been so reviled?
Anyway, with me behind the scenes, suddenly the work started to get better reviews.
Now this was the kind of work we like!
Not like that other guy’s stuff…give us more like this!
Except that, obviously, it was still my work. Adjusted somewhat to their tastes, but my work nevertheless.
After a bit of successful research there was a shoot, where a stooge totally unconnected with the account was sent in as an art director, there were all manner of creative things created, all of which were originated and curated by my department and I, all while the client was thinking I had been banished to the hills.
Now, all this may seem like sour grapes and duplicitous agencies – but there is a point of sorts to be made.
We preach the gospel of ‘it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it’ and I had got it wrong on all sorts of levels.
‘My bad’ as us white middle-class, middle-aged, suburbanites now say.
But an agency’s output is as subject to this principle as much as any other product and consumer conversation.
Clients need to hear the message in a voice they recognise, by someone they like, in a way that illuminates the idea.
And even though Creative Directors are now seen as the best way to present creative, sometimes it’s best left to the right person for the right client.
Yes…even (gulps and winces)…..an account person.
Because it’s the relationship that smooths the way to a creative sale as much as all the other things, if not more.
Not just opinionated creatives trying to prove they are right.
And more importantly everyone got what they wanted, the client was happy and the agency kept the business.
Ah well, you live and learn.