Recently, a couple of us from BBH India attended the Hollywood Huddle, Pelle Sjoenell’s first creative conclave since he took over as worldwide chief creative officer of BBH. There were many things that were truly inspiring about the meeting, but one sentence in particular struck a chord. It was something that Ari Weiss, the chief creative officer of BBH New York, said in one of the presentations, “The day you win an account is the day you start losing it.”
While for some, this might sound like quite a defeatist attitude to have, it actually is an immensely liberating idea.
We have all won that big account. We have exulted, back-slapped each other and prepared welcome kits for our new clients. There’s genuine excitement for the possibilities that lie ahead and the massively famous work we are all going to produce. Nine times out of 10, that does not happen. After the first few presentations, it becomes clear that the creative ambitions aren’t quite in sync and then the agency starts giving the clients what they want rather than what they need. No one wants to lose the business, do they? That, ladies and gentlemen, is what mediocrity sounds like as it insidiously sits down at the head of the table.
Imagine that instead of burying our heads in the sand and believing that this account is going to stay with the agency forever and ever, we actually acknowledge that it will probably move. Maybe after a year, maybe after 15, but move, it will. Now we have two choices to make right then; will the work be extraordinary, or will it be okay, nice, not bad, mediocre? If you are going to lose the business anyway, why won’t you present the idea that you actually believe in rather than the work that is expected? If it is rejected, you just have to go back again with more work that you believe in. What is the worst that can happen? That’s right, you have already imagined it and now the thought is not so scary. So up you get and back you go again until the work you believe in is the work you make.
Now, it is not that every client’s every waking minute is dedicated to making your brilliant ideas awful. Not at all. There are enough inspired marketers out there who are continuously pushing their agency to greater heights. They ask for fresher ideas, they are encouraging of different formats, they push for better production budgets and it is easy to spot them. They are the women and men who have always produced fantastic work no matter where they go. The problem is that they tend to go. What was once an ideal relationship of agency and client, figuratively completing each other’s sentences, is now a struggle with the new person. Eventually, the account moves and everyone is shocked.
Naturally, no one walks into office wanting to do mediocre work. That’s never the case. Mediocrity is painstakingly and meticulously arrived at. It probably starts by being unsure of the kind of business we’re in. We are not in the service industry, we are in the business of creativity. So, obviously doing magical, creative work will always come first. Great clients recognise this and are happiest when the work is sparkling, not when they are over-serviced. Pandering to a client’s whims, second-guessing what she or he likes personally, has never really paid off in the long run. All you do is limit your output to the extent of an individual client’s creative vision and the brand suffers in the bargain.
But if you believe that you will lose that business anyway, you are going to need creative integrity in truckloads when presenting work. It can’t merely be about ticking off a creative bucket list. “I want to do a black and white ad”, “I want to shoot in the Bahamas”, or “It has been a while since I wrote long copy”. There must be a real reason for what you do. It must be fresh, it must move people, it must be simple, it MUST have an idea and it must be beautifully crafted. Then, after all these things, most importantly, it must be effective.
But coming back to the headline, as all good pieces must, if you are going to lose an account anyway, lose it while making brilliant work and when, as expected, the account moves, you will have had more fun, delivered better results and will have a pretty amazing reel to boot. Which in turn will attract more accounts and get you more business, that will eventually…you know how it goes.
The writer is chief creative officer and managing partner, BBH India