I know someone who used to work at a boutique investment bank here in New York — until she retired at age 40. (Good career choice.) Her job there was, basically, to advise huge companies on matters financial.
These companies paid her bank multi-millions of dollars for that advice. And they pretty much always accepted it without question — as gospel.
It’s the same with management consulting firms like Bain and McKinsey. Clients pay them through the nose and drool over their advice. (To make matters worse, the Bains of the world don’t even have to implement their advice. Nice racket.)
Anyway, it all got me to thinking: Why don’t advertising agencies have the same relationship with their clients?
How many creative presentations have you been in where your clients have asked, “Well, what’s your recommendation?” — only to blatantly ignore your recommendation.
It’s come to the point where my first instinct is to use reverse psychology and recommend something I don’t want to sell.
And that’s just one example. I hear similar stories on a weekly basis from colleagues in all departments across the industry. It’s endemic — and extremely frustrating.
The question is, why have agencies become vendor-like-objects rather than acknowledged, unquestioned experts?
Yes, much of what we produce is quite subjective, and lots of people (too many, actually) feel they can do it well — or at least opine on it with aplomb. Yet photography is as subjective as it gets, but no one questions Annie Leibovitz on a shoot.
Years ago, there was a small cadre of established thought leaders in the industry — David Ogilvy, for example.
David’s greatest success was in promoting his own genius. He made sure that everyone knew that he (and his agency) had “the answer.”
He did it by reducing advertising to a set of formal rules that were backed up by exhaustive research. It made it very difficult for clients to argue with him. The rules limited creativity to some extent, but they also made total sense. And they produced a lot of legendary work.
I’m not saying that rules are the only answer. Far from it. But Ogilvy’s success was inarguable. He found a way to be the final word.
Now how do we find a way?