For those of you thinking of affairs of the heart or taking the latest babe to bed – get that off your mind! I mean the other type of passion that gets us out of bed in the morning. And it’s not the perks (what perks??!!) of the industry either. It is the passion for advertising that gets us through the long hours, the stress, inadequate compensation, the occasionally nasty clients, and the conflicts and tension within an agency.
Even after 15 years in the business, it still surprises me that some things never change. For an industry that is supposed to be about change and evolution, some things remain constant. For example, the ongoing “war” and tension between creative and account servicing, between clients and agency, between agency and …. you name it!
For example, I am irritated at how it seems to be an established habit for some creative people to dislike or treat account servicing like the scum of the earth. To reduce them to tears or treat them with disdain seems the norm and treating them as colleagues and human beings seems an alien concept. Bashing account servicing seems to be an ingrained part of the advertising culture at most agencies.
Don’t misunderstand me; most of my best friends in advertising are in creative and I respect and love them for the reason – they have passion, intensity, drive and belief in what they are doing, and they are committed to their work. These passions frequently lead to conflicts when it differs, which can be good but sometimes these shared passions turn nasty (similar to love affairs that turn sour…. no ?! ).
This is not addressed at or meant for all creative people (I can envisage all the rude, defensive, angry rebuttals already! Stop!), just a small minority who persist in creating a gulf between creative and account servicing instead of working together as a team.
What I dislike are the too frequent battles between departments and the blame game that goes on – all fingers inevitably point to the account servicing people. The creative is off strategy? Because the written brief was lousy. Client didn’t buy the creatives? Oh, it must be because account servicing did a lousy job selling it. I mean come on, the client has a brain too and they are entitled to their own opinions. All this in-fighting and hostility saps energy, strength and effort that would have better gone towards working together as a team to improve the account.
During a recent workshop, one of my creative colleague commented that sometimes, clients were to be blamed for the tension between creative and account servicing. They agree in front of the creative because they don’t want to come across as a client who don’t understand the creatives and is therefore a lousy client. But the moment the creative walks out the door, they will tell us they actually don’t like what was presented. That sets up friction and misunderstanding as the creative assumes we must have messed things up the moment their backs were turned.
Oh, please. Surely clients are not so simple to persuade; otherwise selling anything to them should be easy right? Oh no, the creatives have to believe that, somehow, it must be the account servicing person’s fault. Somehow …
Another incident illustrates my point that supporting blindly can be foolish too. I once rejected a piece of creative because I felt it was wrong, off strategy and just plain bad. The copywriter mustered the support of 2 senior creative people and I was confronted with angry creatives in numerous encounters. I maintained that I refused to sell work that was clearly wrong and bad and told them that, if they wanted to, they could go ahead but I refused to play a part in it. They bullied the client into accepting it – the result was one unhappy client who hated it but felt cornered by the creatives.
Oh, let’s not forget the blames from other departments too. And you wonder why talented people with potential or indeed any brains at all defect to client side, dot.coms, anywhere but advertising? I mean why would anybody in their right mind want to stay in an industry where they are generally over-worked, underpaid, screamed at, and blamed for anything that goes wrong. I have always said in my next life I want to be reincarnated as a creative director – that way, I get to terrorise both the client and account servicing and earn more than everybody else put together!
It’s time we grow up. Some of us are in advertising for the same reasons you are in advertising – for the sheer love and passion – otherwise why would we be in it? Okay, there are always rotten apples. You also know of some creative people who have no idea of what creativity means and shouldn’t even be in advertising. Most are like you or anyone else, in a job, trying to do their best. Some like it, some love it, for others, it’s simply a job. The ones in the wrong industry get weeded out eventually but let’s give a chance to those with some promise and not grind them down before they even have a chance to prove themselves.
There are many reasons for the tensions. Some of the more common gripes, amongst reasonable and unreasonable ones, are:
(01) Inexperienced junior account servicing people
Come on, everyone needs to start somewhere, including the creatives! Give them a chance. Play a part in educating them and teaching them instead of terrorising them. You will then get what you want. A suit who understands and has empathy for the creatives and their issues instead of fear and hostility. Play a part in crafting and molding them into the kind of great suits that will complement you.
(02) Senior account servicing people
They’re lousy, inefficient, didn’t train the juniors, etc. Give them some credit for the hard balancing act they have to do between dealing with the client and the agency. They’re doing their best to hold on to the business, to grow it, and to try to get the best out of everyone, creative, client, juniors, media, management, profitability; juggling many hats and never having the time to do it all. They have a difficult task – most of their effort is spent trying to keep their cool while the creatives blame them for some thing or other! Should be better spent growing the business.
Some are good, some are not, and most are human. Not many give briefs; some do not understand advertising. The clients might be marketing or sales savvy but not many realise advertising is a different ball game altogether. Most of the time, they don’t trust that the agencies do know what they are doing! Then we should all play a part in helping to educate them. Most clients are willing to learn if you genuinely have their interests at heart. Which means understanding that they have responsibilities and accountability too – they want to sell their products and services – and if the creatives do not seem to do that, well, their jobs are at stake, not yours.
(04) Poor briefs and strategy
I find that the best creatives come from briefs and strategies that are a result of a team effort between client, creative and account servicing. However, that teamwork is often missing. Instead the responsibility and onus frequently falls on account servicing, who have to dig around in the dark since the client won’t release marketing or sale objectives because they consider them confidential; and/or the creative people think it is not their role to help play a part in crafting the brief or strategy.
(05) Creative insecurities
Many take it as a personal criticism and attack on their ego if account servicing even so much as offer an opinion on the creative that they have produced. All of us have a vested interest and even though our interests might differ; the underlying common goal is an ad that would be good – outstanding even – and effective and would sell whatever it is supposed to sell. Why can’t the creatives at least listen and then separate the chaff from the wheat before arrogantly denouncing that any or all comments from account servicing must be garbage since only they understand the client and what the brand needs?
The great balancing act between giving a client what they want and keeping them happy or losing the account to the other 20 agencies baying at their door. Very few agencies have the ability to be able to fire an unreasonable client and so give in to a client even when they might not be right. This always leads to a lot of tension and friction because the creative are frustrated in having to produce crap work, and then shift the blame to account servicing for not being able to control the client.
The ones who truly love advertising have passion for it and I, as well as most other account servicing people I know, are as proud as the creative people when an ad campaign comes out truly wonderful and satisfies the client as well. I find that these are frequently the ones where all parties work together to achieve a good brief and accept the strategy, where the client believes in it, where the creative are open-minded to feedback and inputs and where, ultimately, it is a team effort. I have had the privilege to work with clients and creative where this has happened in my 15 years in advertising and it has happened recently too. A few times even! So I guess there’s some hope after all!
And I haven’t even got started yet about the way clients treat account servicing people. Maybe, we should start a revolution of sorts… equal rights to long lunches, huge salaries, and treating the creative people the way they treat account servicing!
Article published in AdAsia May 2001