Jordan Zimmerman's Rules for Helping Clients in a Recession

Guest Column: Renegotiate All Your Agreements and Cancel Cannes, to Start

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Let's face it. It is do or die time -- for agencies and the companies who are trusting us. Now, more than ever, only the really tough survive. If your agency won't at least follow the rules below, you may as well resign and save yourself the heartache -- and your clients the pain and expense.

Work at your clients' business, not just for it. Today, clients don't need servants who simply execute whatever ideas they have to try and sell their products or services. They need partners who really touch their business. As your clients' partner, make your people work inside your client's companies. Make them touch the consumer reality so they never get lost in advertising theory. Things like the credit crunch, consumer uncertainty, retail compression and real human brand value are things you have to witness and feel to truly understand.

Don't be afraid to sell stuff. Somehow and somewhere, our industry got lost with our head up our own posterior region. While what we do is entertaining at times, we are not in the entertainment business. Our clients sell stuff. Our job is to make sure they sell more of it and sell it more profitably. Retail drives the sales. Branding drives value and profit -- it's really that simple. It's your job to be nimble and savvy enough to see what's not working, pull it and replace it with something that does work, and you do it as many times as necessary to serve your client.

If you are embarrassed to admit you sell stuff, you may as well get out of the business because my agency -- and those that think like us -- will run your ass over. The common logic right now is to retreat. And the common result is decreased budgets and, in turn, decreased sales, share and profitability. If you get caught in this downward spiral instead of working to stop it, you're finished.

Be uncommon. When the competition is scaling back, that is the time your agency should accelerate -- with caution. In uncertain times, consumers re-evaluate what is important. Uncommon logic realizes this is the time when the most important brand choices are made and when loyalty is engendered. Value is important, but brand values are even more important. This is not the time to be afraid to re-write the rule books.

Get much more for much less. When you are measured by ROI, you realize that return is measured by how you sell and also by how you buy. In this market, everything is on sale, so make sure your clients are the lucky beneficiaries. Every media investment should be re-negotiated to give your clients more weight, presence and value. Every production partner must share the pain and provide more. Quite frankly, now is the time to also re-visit your own compensation and make sure you are sharing more pain in exchange for sharing more of the rewards when they win. If you are not willing to share risk, you really are just a vendor. And if you don't like being called a vendor, stop acting like it.

Win the war inside out. Do not be shy about challenging CEOs to gain real controlling interest in their own brands before they can conquer their competitors or even invest heavily in external communications. Your people are your brand -- and they're the most precious media you have. If they are not fully galvanized and vested to deliver the brand vision, there is no strategy or idea they can't undo in short time.

Cancel Cannes. I've said it before and have taken more than a few lumps because of it. We have to stop acting like rock-star creatives who show up for awards with an entourage and trailing paparazzi. Start acting like responsible business people that celebrate success, not excess. I'm not saying not to do great work, but we should do so while shocking our system. Let's take all of the money invested in the self-congratulating Côte d'Azur orgy and re-invest that in our clients. It is time to lose our egos and get back to real work.

I offer this advice clearly not to win a popularity contest, but rather to really help guide our industry to commit not to just better work, but work that works better for our clients. This is the time they need our expertise, leadership and confidence. Let's not let them down.

Jordan Zimmerman is founder-chairman of Zimmerman Advertising, part of Omnicom Group.
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