The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


The Problem Vs The Real Problem …

A while back I wrote a post about the best bit of advice I’d ever had regarding solving problems.

Or should I say, on how to present how you are going to solve a problem.

But this is dependent on knowing what is the right problem to solve … and quite often, it ends up being the problem we want to solve versus the problem that needs solving.

Now of course, we can only solve the problem that relates to our particular discipline.

For example, as much as adland likes to claim it can solve everything, we can’t build a car.

[Trust me, I’ve tried]

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Too often, when there is a huge piece of business on the table, our goal is to get all of it.

Every last piece.

Doesn’t matter if it’s not our core expertise.

Doesn’t matter if the work won’t be interesting.

We. Want. It. All.

Now there’s many reasons for this – mostly around money – but what it often ends up doing is destroying everything we’ve spent decades trying to build up.

It burns out staff.
It undermines the creativity of the agency.
It forces quick fix solutions rather than ideas that create sustainable change.
It creates a relationship based on money. rather than creativity.
It positions the agency more as a supplier than a partner.

Now don’t get me wrong, money is important, but when you let that be the only focus – it is the beginning of the end.

Before you know it, the money becomes the driving factor of all decisions and – because you have had to scale-up to manage the huge business you’ve just won – you end up looking for similar sized clients to ensure the whole agency is being utilised rather than chase the business that can elevate your creative reputation.

Oh agency heads will deny this.

They’ll say they still value creative, regardless of the size of client they work on.

And maybe I’m utterly wrong.

But as I wrote a while back, we had a [small scale version] of this situation when we had cynic … and while we were making more money than we had ever earned, it had made us more miserable than we’d ever been.

Thank god we noticed in time, because we were in danger of seeing more economic value in the processes we were creating for the client than the work and then that would be it.

People would leave.
Our reputation would be damaged.
We’d have to pay more to bring people in to deal with the situation.
The profit margin money we were making from the client would be impacted.
Soon we would be doing work we didn’t like without even the excuse of making tons of cash.
The client would call a pitch.
We would have to do it because we were so dependent on them financially.
They’d pick someone who would do things cheaper.
We’d crash and burn.
We would hate ourselves.

OK … OK … that is a particularly bleak possible version of events and I know there’s a lot of big agencies that have found a way to manage doing work for big clients while marrying it with maintaining their creative credentials [but not as many as they would like to admit] but I am surprised how few agencies say which part of a big job they want to do.

I get why, because there’s fear the client will write you off because they want a simple solution rather than a complex.

But if you’re really good at something, then you have the power to change that mindset from complexity to effectiveness.

Of course, to pull that off, you have to be exceptional.

A proven track record of being brilliant at something few others can pull off.

Which means I’m not talking about process or procedures … but work.

Actual, creativity.

In my entire career, there’s only been 3 agencies I’ve worked at – and one of those I started – who have told clients they only want a slice of the pie rather than the whole thing.

More than that, they also told the client how they believed the problem should be handled rather than simply agreeing to whatever the client wanted in a bid to ‘win favour’. Of course, the slice they focused on was not only their core area of brilliance, but also the most influential in terms of positioning the entirety of the brand – the strategic positioning and the voice of the brand – so what it led to was a situation where the benefits for the agency far exceeded just an increase in revenue.

They had the relationship with the c-suite.
They set the agenda everyone else had to follow.
They were paid for quality rather than volume.
They made work that enhanced their reputation rather than drag them down.
They were more immune from the procurement departments actions.

All in all, they ended up having a positive relationship rather than a destructive one.

Now, I am not denying that in all 3 cases, the relationship lasted less time than those who were willing to take everything on. In many cases, once the initial strategy and voice work was done, many companies felt we were no longer needed. Not all, but a few.

And while many will read this and say my suggestion to choose the part of the work you want rather than take it all on is flawed … my counter is not only did all 3 agencies enjoy a reputation, relationship and remuneration level that was in excess of all the other agencies they worked with – and often delivered in a fraction of the time – but they ended up in a position where they attracted new business rather than had to constantly chase it.

In all business, reputation is everything.

Don’t make yours simply about the blinkered pursuit of money.


56 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Excellent post Robert with some scary memories. I still remind myself how quickly it could have all fallen apart had we not listened to the mood of the office.
As you say, many agencies don’t care. Many agencies can’t care. Their cost base won’t allow it and they resemble gamblers constantly doubling down, hoping one of the bets makes them even.

Comment by George

You bought an apartment during this period didn’t you?

Comment by Bazza

Yes. It was the one you claim you were never invited to.

Comment by George

Finally you admit it.

Comment by Bazza

I’ve always admired your ability to talk to clients about the specific part of the business on offer and not sway from it. It’s even more impressive because normally you can’t concentrate on one thing for more than 3 seconds.

Comment by Bazza

Hilarious.
I also admire Robert for his approach. We had plenty of arguments about it in the early days because he would say no even when prospective clients told us the business would be ours if we took on more of “the grunt work.” I was all for doing it but Robert was adamant it would push us off our path. When I finally won that argument we almost ended up messing up everything we had worked for. That still burns.

Comment by George

Many agencies think the only way to win the influential parts of the job is to take on the work they don’t really want. It’s how clients like it. It keeps the power with them.

Comment by Pete

That’s exactly it Pete. Everyone talks about relationships and partnerships but it’s rare to get to that place … one that is built on trust and provocation rather than control or convenience.

Besides, for all the claims, few want it anyway – or they want it only if the price or profit is right.

Yes, it’s business, but it’s a mutually beneficial business but few seem to really understand that … thinking they’re unique when both business and agencies often go down to a price rather than up to a standard.

Comment by Rob

I liked the line we used to use.

Relationships are earned through consistency of behaviour, attitude and ambition.

Comment by Pete

it is amazing baz. campbell loses focus when hes having a piss.

Comment by andy@cynic

So true Baz.

Comment by Pete

You just can’t give a compliment without a smack in the face can you?

Comment by Rob

This is a great post. As George wrote, some agencies don’t care and some can’t. I remember the situation you describe. At first we put it down to teething problems with a new client but when the honeymoon period ended, that’s when it got dark very fast. We were all looking at you 3 and wondering what was happening. There was a lot of loyalty towards you but it was getting tested, especially when mid-level clients would shout at us about timelines and decks.
When you called the all agency to tell us we were walking away was a great feeling. You could feel the energy come right back, even when you explained the implications. Maybe it was because everyone was so young, but I don’t think anyone cared. I can’t imagine people who work on those big pieces of business would feel any different.

Comment by Pete

It’s why every time Rob drinks diet coke I think he’s a traitor.

Comment by Bazza

Thanks a lot.

Besides, I drink Coke Zero now, haha.

Talking of Diet Coke, remember when Lowes tried to fuck us over. That was until Lee came in and saved the day, hahaha.

Comment by Rob

Still a traitor.

Comment by Bazza

I did not save the day Robert. The legal system did. Or more accurately, the threat of it.

Excellent post today.

Comment by Lee Hill

Oh you did Lee.

Please don’t underestimate your role in it. You helped us win in ways maybe you don’t even realise. Hope you’re good and hope to see you soon.

Comment by Rob

you are a fucking traitor for drinking their shit campbell. but im willing to forgive you for a monthly fee of $10k. mates rates and all that bullshit.

Comment by andy@cynic

So clients hire you to help with targetting and differentiation, but get confused when you practice it yourself? What a weird world.

Comment by John

Clients often like the idea of something until they realise the implications of that something. It’s why I laugh when I hear brands say they want to be like NIKE … what they actually mean is they’d like the success and influence of the brand without having to do the 40 years of hard work and tough decisions.

Comment by Rob

Or when planners say they want to be like you.

Comment by John

do you mean they want to be like you doddsy? nothing says how fucked planners are when youre a fucking improvement.

Comment by andy@cynic

Ha, no. I don’t even want to be like me. I meant when planners say they want to be like Rob.

Comment by John

big clients and big agencies dont give a fuck about creative. one uses agencies for cheap outsourcing and the other uses clients to fund their fucking holiday home and posturing. the only reason more people dont know this is because then they wouldnt be able to con any starstruck fuckers in to joining them. the best way to tell which agency to work for is see who isnt trying to do everyfuckingthing. means they know who they are, have standards and give a fuck about the work.

who do i send my invoice for this career lesson to?

Comment by andy@cynic

+1

Comment by John

+2

Comment by DH

You see Andy, when you write stuff like this – even with all the swearing and abuse – it’s great. It’s insightful, it’s pointed and it needs saying.

I wish you did more of it.
I wish you had stayed in the business.
I even wish I still got to work with you.

Sometimes.

Comment by Rob

i know youre feeling extra fucking sentimental with the bullshit youre dealing with but let me make some shit clear.

1 everyone knows im the fucking brains on here.
2 im not a fucking moron.
3 see answer 2.

Comment by andy@cynic

Insights and burn. That would be a great company name.

Comment by DH

What is this bullshit? You’ve been hinting about it all week.

Comment by Bazza

Comment by Pete

Just so you know Baz, I don’t know anything. I just couldn’t resist.

Comment by Pete

when perfect pete starts trolling you, youre at peak shit.

Comment by andy@cynic

Just read your news. Are R/GA mad? Are R/GA that shortsighted. I know you’ll be OK but will R/GA? Prepare for a lot of phonecalls today.

Comment by Bazza

They are idiots.

Comment by George

Rob is trending on twitter. Being made redundant will land him a gig on TV. And yes, R/GA are idiots.

Brilliant post Rob. What a decent way to deal with a shit situation. Please start cynic 2.0. The industry needs it.

Comment by Pete

this is why social media is a fucking lethal weapon.

Comment by andy@cynic

Incomprehensible. Just epitomises Andy’s comment above. But let’s look on the bright side, it’s been ages since yiou had a holiday.

Comment by John

If your stated goal is to help clients manage disruptve forces, I would have thought you’d want to retain your disruptive thinkers. But what do I know?

Comment by John

more than the fuckers who run companies doddsy.

Comment by andy@cynic

Rob I’m really sorry, hope you’re okay.

Comment by Northern

hes fucking living the dream. massive payout. focus of fucking attention. probably job offers. he should be made redundant more fucking often.

Comment by andy@cynic

Head of Marketing for Nottingham Forest?

Comment by Northern

Isn’t that an impossible job?

Comment by DH

There’s already a marketing genius at Forest who got people to spend crazy mney on cardboard cutouts that they said would feature in the crowd.

Comment by john

this decision proves r/ga campbel know even less than planners. thats how fucking stupid they are.

good post campbell. if its cynic 2, im negotiating a better fucking deal upfront.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hope you are doing good Robert. Enjoy tomorrow, though I suspect you will be busy fielding calls, emails and offers.

Comment by George

What time did you get up today? Have you got up today?

Comment by Bazza

He still hasn’t got up.

Comment by Pete

Word on the avenue is that he’s joined a cult.

Comment by John

Are you back or not?
Let me comment. I was going to be nice about forests collapse.
Well, I probably was.

Comment by Bazza

What sort of person won’t let people comment on their good posts but wants them to comment on their bad. I’m afraid redundancy has brought back your old belligerence.

Comment by DH

Seriously. He’s written another and it’s good. What is the betting when he’s back the first post is about balloons or his best friends penis?

Comment by Bazza

My money’s on the science experiment that his warped mind found arousing.

Comment by John

the fucker has been writing a fuckload of posts so he can keep annoying the fuck out of us when hes dead.

Comment by andy@cynic




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