I’d like to talk about a subject very dear to my heart: Why do some businesses consistently run better adverts than others in the same category?
In doing so, I’d like to offer my own personal hypothesis on the answer to this question in the hope, dear reader, that you personally get better business results out of it.
I’ve been thinking about the way agencies regard clients and their decisions and I suspect there is a systemic problem in the way agencies and clients interact.
Advertising agencies talk about the ‘fit’ between agency and client being the secret to great work. There is a lot of truth in this. Great work comes from a great client / agency relationship, but describing this purely as a matter of ‘fit’ or a ‘personality match’ is a bit simplistic to my mind.
Central to this construct of client/agency “fit” is the notion of trust. This is vital for every business relationship and especially for something as ethereal as harnessing the creative process for mutual benefit.
But trust is an outcome, not a pre-requisite.
Trust is the end result of a repeated series of interactions and activities between two or more parties – one where all parties consistently achieve their desired outcomes in a way that can be directly linked back to those interactions.
In other words, trust is the end result of operating a system successfully.
Monty Python were famous for arguing ferociously during the writing process. Their screaming rows were legendary. Yet from this conflict came some of the best creative product of their time, and the team members themselves credit the tension as the catalyst for their great work. Their creative output happened despite there being a bad fit between personalities.
Conflict at this level between an agency and their client would terminate the business relationship. So why does it work in one instance but not in others?
While there were personality conflicts within Monty Python, they found a system for working together that harnessed that energy and pushed them to great creative heights. They trusted their system of working together, more than they trusted each other.
How many agencies focus on building systematic similarities between their own operating procedures and their clients?
I once gave a presentation on my proprietary creative development and brand development strategies to a retail client. After I presented my methodology, they turned to me and said “Shannon, we can use those exact same systems in choosing our product lines and HR.”
In other words, the same systems and processes I was using to differentiate their brand via communications could be used to choose their retail products and determine their hiring policies. We could build their brand communications and their operating procedures simultaneously, using the same criteria, removing all barriers between the expression of their brand and its underlying business practices.
Agencies talk of garnering trust through ‘educating’ clients, of getting them ‘on the same page’, of ‘changing the way they look at advertising’, of ‘attitudinal change’ and ‘paradigm shifts’ within their organizations.
Or in other words – “You’re ignorant and you don’t think like us, so you need to change. That way you’ll trust us.”
Wouldn’t it be more fruitful and far more respectful to jointly build systems that gives you both desirable outcomes? To synchronise their working systems with yours and vice versa?
The advertising cynics (and there are a lot of them) might say “That’s what the contract is for”. And yes it is to some degree.
But people are people, not contracts. And this goes far beyond a statement of respective legal responsibilities.
If we really want to create better communications, I believe we need to create better systems first. We need to look at the sum of all forces in our inter-business operating and cognitive systems, eliminate opposing system processes and ensure they at least operate in parallel; otherwise we’re all wasting our time.