Client interference in Adville. Dadagiri or collaboration?
Monojit Lahiri examines an issue that continues to plague the industry... but remains its worst kept secret! Is it normal industry practice or over-reactions from creative dilettantes?
MONOJIT LAHIRI | New Delhi, December 20, 2013 11:26 Tags :
JWT Kolkata |Subhash Ghoshal |Dulu Sen |Ambuja Neotia Group |Harsh Neotia | |
A s a curtain-raiser, a brief flashback to what one of my earliest gurus – the late, iconic Subhash Ghoshal – told us when we were about to get started as trainees in the JWT Kolkata of the early 70s, would be in order. “We are in the service industry and exist only because of our clients. Never forget that.” He also made it clear that the jobs of the two were clearly demarcated. “Our job is to understand everything about his product and communication requirement and offer him cutting-edge need-based solutions.
The client is to clearly define his needs and pose challenges that charge us to offer communication that catches lightning in a bottle!” Since creativity was the driving force, opinions – informed, focused, sharp, insightful as well as frivolous, stupid, dismissive, even downright rude – he warned us, would fly, but it was critical that we retain our cool and dignity befitting our role as good ambassadors of both JWT, and the profession.
However, it was equally critical that we don’t “Cave-in, sell-out or play yes-men to any/everything the client says because we are not suppliers but consultants – collaborators and equal-partners on the same side, united in the common agenda of informing, educating, persuading and selling the product/service to the target group.”
That was titan-speak, but today, in year 2013, does client-interference happen as frequently and does it still embrace the charming definition of “The insanity of barking when you have a dog!” Let’s face it, advertising – like Bollywood – is a nervous space, forever driven by frenzied guesswork, hunches, buzz, hearsay, whatever. Pecking to death a perfectly well-formulated and approved idea, is not unknown, nor the client “Perching on our damn shoulders like some goddamned nagging conscience” as one fatigued creative put it.
“They should stop being C-grade writers and art directors and concentrate on playing the role of an inspirational impresario instead,” adds another. Tongue-firmly in cheek, ex-JWT Creative Director Dulu Sen lets fly a zinger: “As the great H. G. Wells once wrote, no passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone’s draft!” Power Grid’s Naresh Kumar fires the first salvo offering an interesting client-perspective. “The answer has to be a yes and no! Yes, because there are definite instances – both in the PSUs and private sector – where clients are more opinionated than professionally evolved and bring this to bear on the job.
Due to this inadequacy, they prefer to play safe, toe traditional lines and go for consensus instead of taking the lead and responsibility to break new ground in terms of joint-collaboration towards creating meaningful, interesting yet relevant communications.” However, as an ex mass-com student with advertising agency experience, Kumar prides himself in being a thorough professional with a solid, two-decade experience of successfully handling the entire gamut of PSU communication portfolio.
“This has resulted in awards and being recognised as a communication practitioner of real worth, enjoying high comfort levels with every Ad agency I have ever interacted with, leading to excellent work. We both know where we are coming from so there’s mutual respect, total transparency and zero bullshitting – something bound to happen when clients are clueless and opinionated allowing agencies to play shrewd supplier and move on,” he says. Harsh Neotia, Chairman, Ambuja Neotia Group, brings in yet another client-driven perspective. He is of the opinion that “Confluence and collaboration not conflict is the name of the game.”
The Kolkata-based real estate tycoon has dealt extensively with Ad agencies and professes to have hardly ever faced problems. “If you know what you want and explain it clearly in terms of a tight and focused brief to your agency, chances are they will deliver. Admittedly, creative interpretation – which is what cutting-edge advertising is all about – can be debated and discussed but finally it has to be a case of convince me or get convinced. Ego must never come into this space because it’s not personal but a professional task.
Gifted and fearless agency guys however are usually very clear that they will take only this much stone-walling and no more, when convinced about their vision, focus and deliverables. They have no problem telling communication-illiterate clients to either fall in line or look elsewhere because they have the background, credentials, belief and self-confidence to move on without panicking or selling out,” says Neotia.
Siddharth Roy, Executive Director of the Kolkata-based Response Ad Agency, wraps up this debate in an explosive style. He minces no words and really turns on the heat on Ad agencies for this “Total fake and manufactured madness of mimicking global templates and getting completely swept away by this dangerously glamorous and seductive (mis)representation of creative anarchy that dismisses every other criteria as archaic, boring and irrelevant!” Roy believes that three points define this huge problem.
One, the completely inaccurate and misleading perception of many Ad agencies which suggests that “The client is an idiot and knows nothing of the communication process, with its mystical layers and creative nuances.” Two, the complete and flamboyant dismissal of ground realities that define the market, consumer and purchase intent. Three, the overwhelming sense of arrogance that comes from an ‘imagined’ sense of creative superiority derived from a time and space where creative stars call the shots in Adland, hymned and celebrated at big-ticket events and frequently rubbing shoulders with the Page 3 dazzlers.
This has caused a huge divide – in many quarters – between client and agency with the former getting increasingly cynical and skeptical about the alliance. “Even in a small market like Kolkata, this problem has raised its head and unless addressed by the agencies in appropriate fashion certainly does not augur well for the future” concludes Roy.
The legendary Ed McCabe had once stated that to produce great advertising, three things are required. “A Management that wants it. The Creatives who can produce it. Most importantly, the Clients who will buy it.”
As a practitioner involved in this business for over three and a half decades, I believe it’s great clients who make agencies great and not vice-versa. They take risks. They run with the idea. They buy the ads. I remember brilliant creative people (Mohammed Khan, Freddy Birdy, Agnello Dias, Prasoon Joshi, Priti Nair among others) candidly confessing to me that had the clients not been equally excited and fired by their campaigns, they (the campaigns not the clients!) would be locked up in that bottom left drawer, journeying from obscurity to oblivion … Agree?