The creative team are on the podium with the account director, creative director and agency founder. Everyone is whooping for joy and doing their best ‘award-do’ gurn for the camera. But who’s that on the end of the line up, blinking in the flashbulbs and looking a little uncomfortable? Waiting patiently to get a touch of the brand trust award…
It’s the client. The one who wrote the brief that led to the work. The one who had the courage to bet their name, and often their job security, upon the agency now soaking up the limelight.
I remember sitting across a round table at the DMA awards in The Grosvenor Hotel ballroom, one Autumn evening, as a campaign we had put together for The Army Recruiting Group scooped no less than three golds and a silver. As trips to the podium became a little embarrassing, the client and I stayed put at the table. Just as I went to thank him for having faith in the work, he leapt in first and thanked me for pushing for creative excellence. I have never forgotten this moment and we remain friends to this day.
Relationships like that – built upon mutual respect and trust – are very precious. Because they are almost always the secret ingredient behind every piece of great creative work that you see out there. In my long career I have a revered gallery of clients who have remembered that ‘standing out’, by using creativity as your ‘last legal unfair advantage’ (as Bill Bernbach put it), is the route to better sales performance. But trust is always earned. And mutual.
I’m reminded of a virtuoso podcast, in which the conductor Charles Hazelwood talks about the crucial bond of trust that must exist between a conductor and a 90 strong orchestra of finely tuned , expert performers. It’s a great read or listen, but the key takeaway is that trust is the gel that makes all human relationships work. If we try to coerce someone into our way of seeing things, or set ourselves up in a master and servant (client and supplier) dynamic, we kill the genuinely magical spark that can make an average idea into something brilliant.
The bond between brand trust and brave agencies
And it’s true, trust does involve a certain degree of bravery. I realise that all those years ago my client bestie was making a Possiblist* leap of faith in my creative vision. But I was also letting him – needed him – to be part of that leap. In the last few years I’ve seen that collaborative leap of faith and trust give birth to truly bold clients – and truly transformative campaigns.
So, what can one take away from this? I would say that if you were a client, thinking of working with a new agency, and presuming you want to do great work that makes a difference – be sure you are working with someone who you trust to share and elevate your vision.
Trust your nerves
If the way they bring that to life causes a flutter of nervousness it’s usually a good sign. The world of marketing and advertising is full of bland ideas that no one could get fired for. But many of them won’t get you hired, either.
Build up an instinct for risk taking through creativity. In a bland world it will rarely let you down.
And finally, agencies and creatives, immerse yourself in your clients’ business. Marketing and creativity form a small part of their world. The distance you go to understand your clients’ other levers and drivers will probably mean that you come up with better and more effective ideas that perform for that brand or organisation. And, who knows, your curiosity may well win you that elusive ingredient – trust.
*What’s a Possiblist? It’s the other secret ingredient that makes our work special. Ask us about it some time.