“IT SEEMS SO SIMPLE; WHY IS IT SO HARD?”
I didn’t know Shelly Lazarus well; she introduced herself when I was running Foote, Cone & Belding’s West Coast direct marketing operation and she was CEO of Ogilvy Direct, the direct marketing arm of famed advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. Our paths would cross from time to time—we saw one another at a pitch for the Delta Air Lines’ account—but we were far from friends.
Even so, after I wrote the second edition of The Art of Client Service, I sent the book to her. Shelly had by then ascended to become chair and CEO of Ogilvy’s General agency; I was trying to generate some exposure and support for my newly published work. She was on the short list of agency executives to whom I planned to send a copy, with compliments.
I expected nothing in return, but Shelly was kind enough to write back with a handwritten note of thanks, which asked, “It seems so simple; why is it so hard?”
I have been thinking about this question for more than a dozen years. Serving clients well should be simple, except it isn’t. Solving problems should be easy, but almost never is.
Very few people do these things well, and many do them poorly, which explains, in part, why so many accounts go into review, so many client people express profound unhappiness with their agencies, and so many agency people remain bewildered by a business that, if anything, grows more complex as people grow increasingly less able to deal with it.
The previous two editions of The Art of Client Service made a modest attempt to address this, deconstructing many of the things client service people need to do consistently well to serve clients effectively. The second edition was certainly an improvement over the first, but as helpful as it was intended to be, it had shortcomings.
Absent from that edition is any discussion about how to do something as fundamental as formulate a scope of work, a schedule, or a budget. New business, something utterly essential to the continuity and growth of advertising and marketing agencies, barely gets a passing nod. And ideas? They are the currency agencies trade in, yet hardly earn so much as a mention.
We need a book that preserves everything that worked in the previous edition, but also addresses these other, essential items, plus looks at client service in a way that is more accessible to account people, and potentially more effective with clients.
This, I hope, is that book.
I began by rethinking the book’s organization, starting with what it means to be great with clients, the role account management plays in new business, and how client service people contribute to building and sustaining relationships built on trust. There’s a section devoted to formulating a creative brief, and one that deals with unhappy clients.
Although the people I spoke with were far from a homogeneous lot—different agencies, different clients, different challenges—their issues were surprisingly similar and recurring, with five common threads populating the narratives I heard, all of which I share.
Everything begins and ends with what clients want, and what they want is relatively straightforward: consistent execution partnered with solid ideas, driven by people who understand and care deeply about their business.
Straightforward, but by no means easy. There is no bigger challenge than discerning, then delivering, near flawless performance in a business complicated with collapsing deadlines and compressed budgets.
Simply put, there are easier ways to make a living. But for those of us who believe in what we do, this is a calling, not a job, something we are committed to pursue as well as we are able.
If I’ve done my job even halfway well, what I’ve written will help you in your quest.