Saying No to Cheap Clients

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BART CLEVELAND: Agencies have been doing more with less for a while now. I think it’s good for creative because it challenges us to actually think of ideas instead of throwing production money at the problem and agencies should be good stewards of their client’s money. However, there is a hidden danger with budget trimming that clients need to be warned about.

Less can be more when it comes to great thinking, but in the production-budget area less becomes the client’s loss. I’m not talking about the national average budget for a TV spot. That’s in the hundreds of thousands. Small agencies very seldom have that much to work with. I’m talking about less than fifty, or forty, or ten thousand. When an agency does not stand up and say to their client that they have cut into muscle, bone and marrow, that agency isn't really serving the client. Marketers can be fooled into believing that if one budget diet pill is good, a dozen will be great. OD-ing on budget cutting will flat line a client as well as an idea.

If I were a client I too would be looking for the most for my money. But I would also want someone looking out for my best interest -- an agency courageous enough to tell me when I’m being cheap to my own detriment. As a client I would want to know that tiny budgets result in very restricted thinking. I would want to know that it’s limiting creative options and that that makes the odds of being predictable very high. Predictable advertising is ignored. Being ignored is a waste of money. I would want to be told if I was wasting money.

We teach our creative people what it costs to produce work so they conceptualize within a corridor of possibility. But the micro-budget corridors are very narrow. It’s like the two-for-ten-bucks bin at the video store where you’re not going to find many things worthwhile. You can’t have people in your spots if you can’t afford people. You can’t have original music, or quality film or all the little things that add up to making your product look like it’s worth the price you’re asking for it.

An agency worth its salt won’t waste budget money on fancy dinners and first class tickets. They’ll put it on the screen. (In fact, such indulgences are one of the reasons agencies are in the budget-trimming situation we now face).
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