Monday, February 27, 2012

The Doctor and the Pop Star: lessons for Ad Agencies and Clients

Much has been written about the relationship between Michael Jackson and his Doctor, Conrad Murray. And of course now, we wonder whether Whitney Houston's doctor will go under the same microscope?

"The relationship between Jackson and Murray was a microcosm of the deep dysfunction in Jackson's life over his final years. On one side was a pop legend struggling to overcome addictions to painkillers and plastic surgery so he could go out on the road one more time and show the world a little of his former glory; on the other was a man desperate, and indebted, enough to be tempted by a monthly pay cheque of $150,000 (£93,000) and indulge Jackson's craving for ever more powerful sedatives."

What got me thinking was the sometimes disfunctional relationship that exists between Marketers and Ad agencies; in fact, between any expert in a particular field, and the clients who pay their salaries.

In the Agency-Client example:
The Ad agencies need the money, so they do work that they know is not right, that they don't like and don't believe in.  They sit through endless meetings "pushing back", but ultimately get "pushed over", submit revert after revert into the creative stream, until the "just-give-them-what-they-want-and-get-it-out" moment.

The Marketer believes that they must have the final say, because they pay the bills, and so force work through, even though they don't have the necessary skills to make the right decisions.

And the end result? A consumate, complete and almost tragic waste of money, on sub-par advertising. A demoralising and frustrating, resentful daily working relationship. The loss of any creative enthusiasm for the next project, and the continuation, and worsening, of the cycle.

For what? The desperate disfunctionalism of the agency who will suck it up for the cash, will almost certainly result in the loss of the business for all the above reasons.

As Lewis Pugh said on Twitter:

Now of course, he was talking about bigger, more important issues.

And in advertising, unlike the sad doctor-deluded patient example, no-one dies.

But the principles are the same.

Ad professionals : stand up for what you believe is right. And if you are not heard, then perhaps the money is not worth the professional sacrifice. Flag this relationship with someone higher up in the organisation, get the correct balance of power in place (unless of course it is the Chief who is the problem!)

But know this : if you don't, it will ultimately come back to bite you. It will affect your reputation, your staff morale, your company culture, your client relationship, your relationships with other clients. And to top it all, you'll probably get fired anyway, eventually.

Marketers: consider the skills set at your disposal, in your agency. Let them do what they advise is the best solution to your bsuienss challenge. Of course if they're no good, you need another, good, agency.

But there is  a lot of excellent talent out there that is being told what to do, rather than being asked what to do.

And we've seen how well that works.

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