Cynicism, duplicity and institutional incompetence

How well do you know your future client?

I've known clients like this

In my last post, I looked at thirty reasons for advertising agencies not winning an account when they thought they were ahead. I could easily have added another seventy reasons.

But it’s not always the agency’s fault. Clients are just as likely to mess up the process. Recently, I’ve been sitting on the client side of the table more than I have on the agency side.

And very interesting it has been, too.

Here are ten common reasons for Client screw-ups:

  1. The clients knew before the pitch whom they wanted to appoint but were compelled by Procurement to go ahead with a pitch nonetheless
  2. The pitch was called by the new marketing director to enable him to appoint the advertising agency from his former job
  3. The pitch was a statutory pitch, the purpose being to make the incumbent agency to try harder and charge less
  4. The client was looking for free ideas but had no intention of moving his business
  5. What the clients really wanted was a digital solution, but failed to mention that in the brief
  6. The new marketing director called a pitch, fired the incumbent agency, and then got fired himself by the managing director
  7. I’m going to have to be a bit careful about this one since a lot of people, me included, still feel litigious about what happened. Here goes: a bullying sort of recently hired client called an agency review. He knew which agency he wanted to appoint. However, this agency didn’t really come up with the goods in the pitch, but the least well-known agency which pitched produced a cracker of an idea based upon a very well-known pop video from the 1960s. The small agency was not appointed. Three months later, that idea was running on TV in a slightly different guise. The client had passed on the idea to his favoured agency, and told them to run it
  8. The client had specified that he was not going to appoint an agency with conflicting accounts, and then complained when the agency could not show a relevant case history
  9. The marketing director said she was in charge of the pitch process. She wasn’t. It turned out to be her bosses in the States who were not going to appoint a French advertising agency
  10. When we drilled down through the substrate and peered around in the gloom, we realised that the potential client didn’t really want great advertising to sell his company’s beer. What he really wanted was advertising to make him famous. He probably could have spent his time more wisely with a PR company

Again, neither all agencies nor all clients are either sinners or saints. You can find all sorts there, but you also come across some fairly extreme ones who are really only in it for themselves. I have as many client side friends as I do from the agency world. But, if you’re going to pitch, remember that you’ll never really know what went on in the clients’ heads. Pitches are hugely exciting, but they’re also disruptive and expensive, and should only ever be undertaken once you have answered yes to the following three questions:

  1. What is the true reason for this pitch?
  2. Who on the client side is really in charge?
  3. Are you sure you can work with them?

Geoff Howard-Spink had an additional three:

  1. Can we do great work for this client?
  2. Are we going to make a lot of money out of it?
  3. Is it going to be fun?

He went on to say that if the answer was yes to any two of these three, you should seize the account. If you can only say yes to one question, politely decline.

Which we did from time to time.