Speaking as an experienced creative person I firmly believe that the most important factor in building a successful creative agency isn’t creativity.
It’s the client relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have some creative fire in my belly after many many years, and I believe the quality of the work you produce is definitely what sets one agency apart from any other as much as good food distinguishes a quality restaurant from the riff raff. But the quality of your relationships is how you get there.
If you are not working with clients who believe in what you deliver, who respect you and are prepared to listen to you, then effectively your role is no more than waiter, to use the restaurant analogy.
I once remember a client, in fact, the son of a family business owner who, upon hearing the account service director state he would pass his comments on to the creative team and ask them to look into a problem was told “No, don’t ask them, tell them to do it. Just remember who is paying the bills.”
What a brat. Looking back today I can laugh at the naive arrogance of this, not uncommon among usually the more junior people who clearly misinterpret the idea of a working relationship. As an agency proprietor, such a person would not last 5 minutes with me today.
Because to me, the saying ‘the customer is always right’ does not belong in the world I live in. That of delivering effective creative solutions for clients.
It’s an expression from the world of sales which effectively means ‘make a sale at all costs.’ That’s the end goal.
In the world of marketing, a good creative brand expert is not there to make a sale at all costs. You are there to understand a client’s business and the challenges they face, in order to find creative solutions which can help.
Sometimes that means recommending things which perhaps the client may not agree with. And in this world, the customer is not always right. Especially when that customer lacks the necessary experience.
Most importantly, the respect must be a two way street, and I’ve no time for creative arrogance either.
To me, if I have found a good client with whom I enjoy a constructive, mutually respectful relationship, I will devote blood, sweat and tears to helping them. I’m not just after their money (frankly many agencies are, it’s all about meeting budget at all costs). Need urgent help on a holiday? I’m there.
I genuinely want to add value and do the best job I possibly can.
But I place great emphasis on the ‘mutual respect’ part. Once that is established, everything else falls in place. And I believe that’s the secret to success. Well, for the most part (I may disagree next week).