When the CEO’s fist smashed into the table… I finally learned something.
You can’t work in advertising without pitching. And you haven’t worked in advertising until you’ve brutally lost one.
My brutal humiliation happened five years ago when a major media client interrupted us mid-sentence.
It was the classic agency line our MD was parading: “See the thing is that we know your business and…”
Bang! Their CEO’s fist hits the table. “No you don’t know our fucking business!”
The rest of the pitch was a disaster and it was only later, while licking our wounds, that I realised there was lemonade in the lemon the CEO threw across the table.
See in my previous 10 years or so in agencyland, at every place I’d worked across Australia and the UK the agency line had always been, ‘our difference is we really understand our client’s business’. And it became the charade we all got trained in and acted out each day.
It’s a lie.
You see the truth is, we don’t know their business. We certainly knew a fair bit about advertising, took an interest in their business, and even tracked their sales. That’s not the same as working in the business, across sales, operations, HR, finance and sitting in on board meetings. So why pretend?
Because we were pretending we knew, we were often not asking the dumb questions for fear of looking dumb. We also had our advertising filter on, which became a campaign solution filter. Campaigns became the advertiser’s god. We looked for a big idea and one neat solution to all their problems.
Now, we all know if the answer’s complex, then the question’s probably not right. But what we were missing was that there might be more than one question.
So my fist slam/ fist pump moment was this: Give up the ‘we know your business’ arrogance and give up the worship at the advertising/campaign altar. Then start thinking in terms of marketing fundamentals. How do customers find out about you? How are you addressing their concerns? What’s happening around the sale? How are you delivering the product/service? What’s the follow-up?
Some brands that really get this way of thinking are nakedwines.com.au, Hot Milk lingerie and The Clean Plumber. You don’t need to see a campaign to be talking about them.
So how can you action this way of thinking? Avoid taking a brief in isolation, but collaborate with clients on the above questions and, only once the fundamentals are strong, do you then lay the campaign over the top.
It’s as simple as letting your clients tell you about their business and ask the dumb questions. In a place of honesty about what you know and, more importantly, don’t, you get the space to create strategies and ideas that can help clients get better results, sooner and for less. It’s just not done enough.
Ashton Bishop is the head of strategy at Step Change Marketing