Sunday, August 26, 2007

In the comfort of your home or office, you too can . . .

Here’s something that’s been kind of gnawing at me lately.

On the one hand, I honestly believe that advertising is best when it’s a collaboration between the agency and client. On the other, I sometimes wish clients would trust us to do what they pay us to do.

For example – should a client get a group together with your ideas and comps and re-write or edit headlines and copy and send them back? Should they get into the “I don’t like the red” or “I’d like the background to be deep purple” arena of logo or web design? I mean really, at what point do we, should we, or can we as “professionals” try to insist on going this part of it alone?

This is not to say that everything any of us ever writes or designs is perfect as is. Far from it. What I do mean to suggest is that I think it works better if a client can give us the direction we need so we can apply our particular talents to satisfy the marketing challenge. (“Why not red?” Good answer: “It’s hard to read.” “Why deep purple?” Bad answer: “We saw it on another site and we like it.”)

When a concept or bit of creative isn’t cutting it with a client, I like to ask them to help me understand what it is doing that it shouldn’t do or what it isn’t doing that it should do. With that sort of information and insight, we can address their concerns.

I don’t mean to sound to arrogant here, but the fact of the matter is, anybody who does any particular thing full-time for a living can usually do it better than someone who doesn’t. That goes for legal work, plumbing, truck driving, competitive ice-skating, garbage collection or accounting. And it goes for art direction and copywriting as well.

Don’t get me wrong. Clients have very good ideas. A headline suggested by a client of ours won an award at The Addys last year. Another client had a fabulous packaging idea for a direct mail piece we’re doing. But people who don’t write or design for a living tend to write and design things that look to them like what an “ad” ought to be. That’s because they’ve seen it already somewhere. And re-creating something they and everybody else has seen already isn’t a very good way to grab anybody’s attention.

There are plenty of agencies out there who make a nice living simply carrying out client directions. Often those agency-client relationships last forever, because it works for everybody. But just as often, the client looks up one day and wonders why they pay an agency that has to be directed every step of the way. Sometimes, it’s because that’s what the agency has been conditioned to do in order to keep peace in the valley. Not everybody is inclined to disagree with a client who mandates an idea. And who signs the checks.

So if you’ve got an idea for your agency, by all means share it. Do not hesitate. If they are any good at all, they want to hear it. And if it's a better idea, they will use it. But recognize that there is a reason you hired them to do the creative, and don’t force your ideas on them. If their ego is so out of control that they are unwilling to recognize a good idea unless it’s theirs, fire them. You should give your agency the direction they need to get the work to where it needs to be. You should expect them to come through. You should demand creativity. You should not insist on joining the creative team.

That is, unless you’re inclined to invite the art director and copywriter in to help you with your sales forecast, inventory management or site permits.

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