Editorial: Get the focus on the client

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This is Cannes week-a celebration of creativity as the advertising world converges on the south of France to take part in the industry's premier ad festival. But agency executives basking in creative glory had best remember it's not about the work. It's about the client.

That message resonated loudly and clearly at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' first new-business conference last week. The meeting, attended by 450 (a record for a Four A's conference in New York), was designed to allow its participants to share best practices and advice on how to weather the new-business drought. A common theme among the advice offered: Keep the focus on the client, not on the agency.

A trio of marketer panelists-JetBlue Airways' Amy Curtis-McIntyre, Smith Barney's Bret Sanford-Chung and IBM's Marianne Caponnetto-highlighted a number of worst practices. Chief among them was a propensity by agencies to harp on their own successes in a pitch rather than listen to the client's needs. A similar note was sounded by consultants from Select Resources International, Rojek Cutcher Group, Roth Associates and Bob Wolf Partners/TPG.

In a rousing keynote speech, Donny Deutsch, chief of an agency with a blockbuster new-business record, also disdained excessive chest-beating before clients. `"De-agency' yourself," he advised. "Know your clients' passionate enemies."

A survey released at the conference, moreover, indicated clients aren't convinced that agencies have their best interests at heart. In Ballester's query of 273 major U.S. marketers, 39% of respondents said agencies sought creative awards at the expense of effectiveness and concentrated too much on traditional TV.

To be sure, clients are interested in creative, as the Cannes contingent from Procter & Gamble Co. this year proves. But clients are most captivated by results, and by an agency that works for the client, not for the work.

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