Sitting on The Other Side of the Table

What It Feels Like to Be a Client for a Day

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Something very rare happened recently.

No, Larry King didn't go out without his suspenders. And Paris Hilton didn't find a pair of sunglasses that actually fit her pin head.

Peter Madden Peter Madden
I got a first-hand look at exactly how "the best" agencies present their work -- to me (and a team that included eight others). It's amazing how calm, cool, and collected you feel when all you're not the one "pointing at the power." All I had to do was listen. And, of course, judge.

The background: A client for whom AgileCat created a brand, brand vision/promise, etc. wanted to use our work to leverage an overall advertising campaign. Since we are going to be the brand steward, the client had me in to review the agencies they're considering to create an overall advertising concept, creative and more.

And they brought in the heavy hitters with client lists as long as they were prestigious. To protect the innocent, I won't reveal who they were, but trust me – you've seen their work, especially around NYC.

And I don't know about you, but you hear people talk about agencies like this in breathless whispers and you practically expect them to ride in on magic carpets, carrying a magic orb from which they produce endless cutting-edge ideas for creative.

Not the case. On to two specific contestants

Prospective Agency #1: Really cool glasses. The pair of guys from this agency looked like they were from central casting for "hip design agency." It made me wonder if there's a specific store in Midtown that refuses to sell anything that might slightly resemble specs from Pearl Vision.

But I digress. Their work was solid. Nice clean identities with definite rationale behind design choices. Good case studies. A little overboard on things that hardly fell under marketing. The "main talker" (glasses not nearly as cool as the guy working the power point) was proud of himself and loved showing off his vocabulary. It was like SAT meets Sesame Street. He snuck in such classics as "august" and "germane." He even had a few jokes off the cuff. I have a feeling if he wasn't running an agency, he'd host a reality TV show about a book club.

Seriously, in the end, good work, solid presentation. But I didn't see anything that made me think my "small agency" had any catching up to do. Except for the glasses part.

Prospective Agency #2: Flustered but likeable.

Our presenter was late. Something about a train. Then the PowerPoint wouldn't project to the screen. Shoot, even the bigs have technical difficulties (made mental note). Despite this, she showed some poise and deftly spun her laptop to the "judges and jury" and asked us to gather 'round to get the best vantage point of their work.

It was hard not to respect how direct she was in terms of what her agency stood for: essentially, designers working directly with the client, with no account-management in-between. Whether someone feels this is a good or bad business model, at least this agency was clear on what it's about. Her attitude said it all: We are what we are, and that may or may not be good for you.

Unlike #1, she didn't over-explain why they made certain design choices. But at times, she took this to an extreme. When you're speaking to a room of people who come from different areas -- board members to PR folks, I'd say it would help to give the people a little behind-the-curtain look at Oz. In the end, anyone with a laptop and a PowerPoint should be there to do one thing -- sell, sell, sell. And no, that doesn't mean blow smoke up my ass. You worked hard to develop the work -- tell us about it!

Everyone's Favorite Part - the "Q&A"

Prospect #1 had a ready answer for any question thrown his way (and a joke to go with it!), but it seemed to put out the fire in other questions I sensed people wanting to ask. I don't know if this is a good thing, do you? His borderline arrogance distanced the crowd to a degree, and spoke volumes about the agency itself. If this is the guy running it, it's not a far cry to assume that attitude trickles down to the lower ranks. My client was looking for a collaborator -- not a constant struggle. Leadership in creative is a great thing, but not when it's being driven with a steamroller.

Prospect #2's presentation was a study in psychology. Because she was a non-seller, she gave the team representing the client many, many opportunities to jump in all over her presentation, peppering her with questions at every turn. It was like watching Animal Planet when the cheetahs gather around the antelope. It wasn't pretty to watch. Despite her agency's amazing work and great client list, when it comes to considering who is going to be marketing your baby, people are going to pull out the tough stuff when they get a chance. Haven't we all been there? You know, when you're showcasing the work you sweat and bleed over, and an intern for the prospective client reviews an ad and tells you she "thinks the picture in the ad is weird."

In the end, it was an interesting look under the hood of agencies whose work any of us would, and should, respect. And it showed me what it felt like to be on the client's side of a pitch -- something completely different from the side we're usually on.

It also inspired me to attempt to create the best 10-slide power point the world (or at least the East Coast) has ever seen.

And to always, always, always make my train -- and bring someone from the I.T. department!
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