The Long Pointy Stick

Advertising probably began when one Neanderthal shouted to another that he had found a long pointy stick that would be great for hunting. He called it “Long Pointy Stick.” Then an Ad Neanderthal came along and counseled that it needed a new name— “something really cool, like ‘Spear.’ And with a name like that you can sell it for at least four shells!”

There are those who regard advertising as manipulative, convincing people that they should buy stuff they don’t really need, things that won’t improve their life. Others say that advertising helps stimulate an economy by helping to generate mass sales that keep the cost of goods and services reasonable. Either way, advertising has become an art, a science, and a source of entertainment. The most effective link between clients and their markets is advertising agencies and their clients.

The claim is that advertising can sell a product. Any product. Anytime. Anywhere. All it takes is a decent ad in the right publication. Or a decent commercial on the right station at the right time. Or a decent direct mail piece delivered to the right people. An advertising agency is a group of sharply focused people helping you build your business. They do what other businesses don’t do, or don’t do well. The agency product is specialized know-how from people with talents for writing and visualizing. As such, an agency will provide the client with all the folks in all the supporting services needed by the client in order to help their business grow: account management, media planning, buying and traffic, production (print and broadcast), and just about any kind of research and creative: copywriting, art direction, photography, television production, print production, online content... you name it.

Think of an agency as if it were a Ferrari. When you peek under the hood there are a lot of moving parts at work. Great Clients know what’s connected to what; when they hear a weird squeaking sound, they can tell where it’s coming from and what it means. And then they—and agency management—do what they can to ensure that the engine continues to run smoothly. In short: The parts of any advertising agency are its people. Men and women whose daily contributions make sure the “engine” runs smoothly and can get the client’s business to where it wants to be.

It’s easy to be a bad client. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most bad clients aren’t aware that they’re bad clients. In the advertising business, “bad” is usually an attitude. It’s an attitude that comes from the idea that the client/agency relationship is basically adversarial. After all, these clients regard their agency as a “vendor”; an expense that, most often, is charged to Sales. Not a good sign.

A bad client brings his or her personal point of view—which will eventually become adversarial in nature—to bear on the agency/client relationship. They are more interested in what they think the advertising should be than what the agency thinks. They know exactly how the commercial should go, what the print ads should look like, how the copy for everything should be written. They know how to improve upon just about everything the agency does. When asked why they reject what the agency presents, they respond with something like “I don’t know. I just don’t like it.” That’s really helpful. Or “Well, I showed the ad to my wife, and she didn’t like the layout. I mean, she studied design in high school.”

Many bad clients don’t watch much television or even listen to the radio, except maybe in their car. They may read a magazine or check out billboards. They also have an attitude built around the fact that they are paying the agency and, as such, they are the Master. In short, bad clients want the agency to back off and do what they’re told. Bad advertising is usually the result.

Deadlines are important to the client and the advertising agency. Think of the relationship as if it were an hourglass with the client on one end and the agency on the other. Project input flows from the client through a pinch point and into the agency. Most likely several times back and forth for the same project. With several projects at work, without a schedule the pinch would jam up. When that happens, confusion reigns.

Schedules are important. And even more important is the approval process required to smoothly move a project through client to agency, and back again to the client, and then back to the agency for production and final release to the media.