I got going down this track after talking with "inner mind" researcher Stan Gross. He was telling me about how he helps bridge the gap between agencies and advertisers by getting clients to understand what business they're really in-by understanding the myths of the inner mind-"and allowing agencies to do their magic." But he added that, at least initially, agencies and advertisers "are on different planets."
That comment got me to thinking that maybe the mega best-selling book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," could shed some light on why the agency-client relationship always has been troublesome, never more so than today. They need each other, but they don't seem able to get on the same wavelength.
Agency executives complain that they have a difficult time trying to build firm and lasting relationships with clients. And clients complain that they're not getting the strategic advice they want from their agencies. What's going on here?
Substituting advertisers for men and agencies for women here's how "men are from Mars" author John Gray describes the dilemma: "Without an understanding of how [advertisers] are like rubber bands, it is very easy for [agencies] to misinterpret a[n] [advertiser's] reaction. A common confusion arises when [an agency] says `Let's talk,' and immediately [the advertiser] distances [itself]. Right when [the agency] wants to open up and get closer, [the advertiser] wants to pull away. . .
"The rubber band analogy explains how [an advertiser] may care very much about [its] partner but suddenly pulls away. When [an advertisers] pulls away it is not because [the advertiser] does not want to talk. Instead, [the advertiser] needs some time alone; time to be with himself when [the advertiser] is not responsible for anyone else. It is a time for [the advertiser] to take care of himself. When [the advertiser] returns then he is available to talk."
One of the big complaints from advertisers about agencies is that agencies aren't giving them what they want. I've heard repeatedly that what advertisers want above all is strategic rather than tactical thinking. They want more than ads, they want brand-building advice. Ironically, agencies insist they are giving their clients such information but they get no credit for it. Worse yet, advertisers turn to management consultants for strategy discussions.
It's almost as if both sides are talking a different language. And in many ways they are. Here's how women [agencies] speak the language: "To fully express their feelings, [agencies] assume poetic license and use various superlatives, metaphors, and generalizations. [Advertisers] mistakenly take these expressions literally. Because they misunderstand the intended meaning, "they commonly react in an unsupportive manner," Dr. Gray explains.
More often than not, in a man-woman relationship or in a client-agency relationship, a man or an advertiser "will suddenly stop communicating and become silent." That's usually the first step in the breakup of both involvements. The next thing we read about is a trial separation or the account going up for review.
[Advertisers] and [agencies] "think and process information very differently," Dr. Gray says. [Agencies] "think out loud, sharing their process of inner discovery with an interested listener." But [advertisers] first formulate how they want to respond before they express themselves.
"[Agencies] need to understand that when an [advertiser] is silent, he is saying `I don't know what to say yet, but I am thinking about it. . .'
[Agencies] misinterpret a[n] [advertiser's] silence. Depending on how [the agency] is feeling that day [the agency] may begin to imagine the very worst-[the advertiser] `hates me, doesn't love me, is leaving me forever.' No wonder [agencies] become insecure when [an advertiser] suddenly becomes quiet!"
I hear an awful lot of silence out there in adland these days. I feel your pain, dear reader, and my door is always open.