We were invited to submit an article to The Drum. I felt we should do more than simply regale its already well-informed readers with an account of our skills, so handed the baton over to my dad – the person whose passion for this industry rubbed off on me at an early age, sufficient to make it a vocation more than career.


Dad’s the reason that I ended up in this industry. His passion for the agencies that looked after his account made me fall in love with ad men when my friends were scribbling ‘George Michael 4 eva’ on their pencil cases. And look where that got them.

So rather than writing about Spring I have decided to give this column over to my dad. Because he knows.

Erika has asked me to tell you what, when I was a client in possession of a few million pounds a year, I looked for in an agency – and what it was reasonable of them to expect of me.

Media may have changed, and creative styles, and to some degree target audiences: but I very much doubt that the human relationships behind them – the perfect match of suit and client, the scraggy-bearded creative behind the vision and the bean-counting FD who tots it all up at the end – have changed at all.

So, as a client, what did I want?

The first thing was chemistry. (As I said, nothing really changes.) I’d always run through agencies’ folios before I called them into pitch, so let’s assume I knew they were capable of producing an appropriate creative response. Those initial meetings were absolutely to establish chemistry, and my instinctive response was invariably borne out. If I liked and trusted an agency team upon first meeting then I knew it would work.

I would say that the same has to work for you, as an agency. Never mind how much you’d like the account, if the fit doesn’t feel right it isn’t. It’s fine to walk away and get to work on the next opportunity.

Secondly, creative proposals: I was looking for well thought out, arresting, single-minded concepts and proof of how they could work across a variety of channels. That’s probably even more true these days, thanks to digital. Some wonderful ideas on TV die in print – you do need to ensure that your campaign is capable of being voiced on every platform.

I still see companies disregard this simple rule, but I can assure you that if you spend a fortune on TV advertising and the home page of your website bears no relation to the campaign you’re running, you’re going to end up with confused and disgruntled consumers. And that’s the fastest route to ex-customers.

The importance of relevance cannot be underestimated. Your clients don’t want awards as much as they want bonuses, and they get those by shifting stock. So, sadly, if the brief requires a tried and tested response – pack shot with price, for example – I strongly recommend you stick to it. Sure, present a creative approach too, but speaking as a client side marketer I can assure you that nothing pisses a client off more than an ignored, painstakingly-prepared brief.

Once I recruited an agency, I wanted to know that I had the best people for the job. We all know that you simply cannot get away with fielding your MD and CD for the pitch and then handing the whole lot over to an account exec and artworker. That’s not to say that those two people weren’t perfect for me – if I needed fast turnaround label amends and classified ads they were probably just the ticket – but if you don’t bring them in from the start I’m going to feel fobbed off.

So I’d say, be upfront and realistic. Take a pragmatic view of the account’s requirements. If it’s a production led job, then send in the people who would be delivering on that day by day. If it’s led by strategy and a Big Concept, you’ll need your senior planner and CD. The client will have a very clear idea of their account’s real needs, and will feel safe if you send in the right team.

Adaptability tends to come from all of the above but it bears saying that a good agency is prepared to re-evaluate things from time to time. Sometimes even the best ideas just don’t take off, so what I wanted from my agencies was acceptance and the ability to sustain their enthusiasm for the project whilst developing a new concept at speed.

It’s fair for you to expect these things from your client:

A decent brief, with a very clear description of audience, mandatories and proscriptions.

Clear reasons why they didn’t like your pitch, if you don’t get selected. And no, speaking as an ex-client, I agree that it’s not enough to throw brickbats at your creative or your quote, which are the standard get out of jail cards.

Payment. You’re in it to make money (whilst satisfying your creative urges and your laudable desire to help other people’s businesses grow) so for goodness sake employ a decent credit controller.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Dad’s thoughts. His experience was in the 70’s and 80’s, when it was fun and there was time for lunch. But, you know, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”