I come at this from the vantage of a fellow client. I’m not an advertising agency person, never having worked a day at an ad agency in my life. I spent 20 years in brand management. But, I have seen all these types of clients. I wrote this slightly tongue-in-cheek, and would like you to laugh a little, but think, “Hey, I know that person.”
I’d also like you to see a little of yourself in a few of these and if you are into personal growth and improvement, then challenge yourself to get better and stop being that type of client. We can always get better.
I get asked a lot: “So what is it that makes someone good at advertising?”
The answer I give is simple: “The best brand leaders consistently get good advertising on the air and consistently keep bad advertising off the air.”
The challenge for many marketers is that it takes a lot to get good advertising on the air. The best clients respect the process, the agency, and their judgment. And yet, most Brand Leaders under-estimate the role the client plays in getting to great creative. As a Brand Leader, if you knew that showing up better would get you better advertising, do you think you could? Or are you stuck being one of these types of clients?
The 10 worst types of advertising clients
#1: Brand leaders who say, “You’re the expert!”
While you might intend this to be a compliment to your agency, it is usually a total cop-out! You end up giving your agency enough rope to hang themselves. As a brand leader, you have to realize that you play the most significant role in the process. Your agency needs you to be engaged in every stage of the process and the work. Your agency requires you to inspire and motivate the team. I have seen a good agency make fantastic advertising for a great client, but I have seen lousy clients suck the life out of the world’s best agency. As the brand leader, bring your knowledge of the brand, show your passion for great work, make clear decisions, and inspire the work towards greatness.
#2: Brand leaders who say, “I never liked the brief” or “I never liked the script.”
Passive-aggressive clients are usually insecure about their abilities in the advertising space. They keep firing their agency instead of taking ownership over their role in the process. I guess it’s easier to fire the agency than fire yourself. A great brand leader never approves work they don’t love. If you don’t love the work you create, then how do you ever expect the consumer to love your brand?
#3: Jekyll & Hyde
When brand leaders bring significant mood swings to the ad process, it will be very hard on the agency. They try to read the room and adjust to your mood. The worst thing that can happen for you is when your mood swing alters the work, and the work moves into a direction you never intended to go. As a brand leader, you have to stay consistent, so everyone knows precisely what exactly you are thinking. Be completely transparent.
#4: The constant bad mood
Even worse than the mood swings, is when a client shows up mad all the time. I have seen clients bring a death stare to creative meetings. Hilarious scripts get presented to a room of fear and utter silence. A true brand leader must motivate and inspire all those who touch their brand. Your greatness will come from the greatness of those who work for you. Be a favorite client, so people want to work for you, never treating them like they have to work for you. Advertising should be fun. When you are having fun, so will your consumer.
#5: The mystery person that’s not in the room
When the real decision-maker is not in the room, everyone second-guesses what might please that decision-maker. As a brand leader, you have to make decisions you think are right for your brand, not what your boss might say. Make the ad you want and then find a way to gain alignment and approval from your boss. The best brand leaders I know will fight anyone in the way of great work, including their boss.
#6: The dictator
When you TELL your agency what to do, it leaves your agency with only one answer: YES. When you ASK your agency a question, then there are three answers: YES, NO, MAYBE. When a brand leader comes in with the exact ad, then it is not a creative process, it just becomes an order taking process. Great ads have to make your brand feel different; different will always feel a little scary. To find greatness, revel in ambiguity and enjoy the unknown. The unknown should be what makes marketing such a great job.
#7: Driven by mandatories
Don’t write a long list of mandatories that steers the type of advertising you want to see, and avoids the kind you don’t want to see. Give some freedom to allow the creative process to unfold. I believe the best ads are like the perfect birthday gift that surprises us, and we never thought to get it ourselves. Let go!!! If you write an excellent brief, you don’t need a list of mandatories.
#8: The kitchen sink
Those clients who always have the “just in case” list. They want to speak to everyone, say everything possible, never focusing or making decisions. When you put everything in your brief, you force the creative team to decide on what’s most important. Brands that try to be everything to anyone will end up nothing to everyone. When you try to jam in every message into the creative, you end up with a complete mess. With each new message you add, it lowers the potential for the consumer to digest what you’re trying to say. Focus on a tightly defined target, with one main message. Get rid of anything on your “just in case” list.
#9: Keeps changing their mind
The best advertising people are in-the-box thinkers who like to solve problems. They are not necessarily blue-sky thinkers. The creative strategy is the starting point of the box for your creative team to solve. Every time you give feedback is a new box, for them to answer. At any stage, if the box keeps changing, you will baffle your agency and will never see the best creative work. The best brand leaders stay confident enough to stand by their decisions.
#10: The scientist:
Some clients believe there is ONE answer. Digital advertising is creating a belief that an A/B test can make the decision. What is the role of creative instincts? Marketers are not actuaries where we can punch in the data, and the answer comes out. As a brand leader, you can’t always get THE answer. When you try to eliminate risk, rather than learning to deal with risk-taking. Certainty might help you sleep better, but you will dream less.
Other stories you might like
- How to write a creative brief. The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan. To read how to write a creative brief, click on this link: How to write a creative brief
- How to write a brand positioning statement. Before you even get into the creative brief, you should be looking at target, benefits and reason to believe. To read how to write a brand positioning statement, click on this link: How to write a brand positioning statement
- How to write a brand plan: The positioning statement helps frame what the brand is all about. However, the brand plan starts to make choices on how you’re going to make the most of that promise. Follow this link to read more on writing a brand plan: How to write a brand plan
This type of thinking is in my book, Beloved Brands
Learn how to think, define, plan, execute and analyze
You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies.
- To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept.
- For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans.
- To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. When it comes time for the analytics,
- I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.
You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.