Paul Hindle: Confessions from being on the client side, aka "I now know the conversations that happen when the agencies leave the room"

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Paul Hindle, General Manager & Strategy Director OMD WA

"I was having dinner with my wife the other day and I meant to say, 'Pass the salt' but instead I said, 'You've ruined my life!'." You'll have heard that one before; there are many variations of that very old joke trope.

At its heart is the notion that one can live intimately alongside someone for many years, yet still be unsure, oblivious even, to what each other is thinking. Such as could be said about clients and agencies, perhaps.

I have spent my entire 20+ year career working in media and advertising agencies, across all manner of categories and brands. I thought I was really clued up! 

However, I recently spent some time consulting. A major assignment was at Coca-Cola Europe, working within their Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) division, based in London. My role meant I was 'the client', dealing with various agency partners. Although the contract lasted only a few months, it was by far my most significant and valuable learning experience of recent years.
I heard first-hand the conversations that happen when the communications agencies leave the room. I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the daily issues clients face. I took a lot of notes. And as a result, I absolutely do many things differently now.

I wage war on agency fluff and nonsense. That 'unique planning process' you're talking up? I'm afraid not, my friend. Like opinions and that posterior body part, everybody's got one. Clients care about business results, not process methodologies. Ten things that are nice-to-know (often aka 'insights')? If they're not evidently actioned in the work, then they're just wasting time. Disruption, big data, agile, transformative, culture intersections, etc - all bullshit bingo crossed with word salad.

I plan to 100% of the budget, not 110%. Because there isn't 110%. I make sure the plan is put on one page so it's crystal clear what needs to be approved. I list all the asset deliverables, and show who is responsible for producing those assets, and who's paying from which budget. 

Surprises are wonderful at Christmas and for birthdays, but they don't belong in agency recommendations. And if a strategy doesn't overtly explain how it will drive business growth, then it probably won't.

On an empowering note, I'm also a whole lot less shy of flagging scope-creep. It was heartening to see how often this was the first question asked internally - "is our agency scoped to deliver this?"

I will leave the final words to one of my colleagues at Coca-Cola, a woman I'd worked with before in New York, who was also ex-agency, and is one of the sharpest minds I've had the privilege to learn from. I quote: "When I worked in an agency, I was obsessed with the first 15 slides of a PowerPoint deck. As a client, now I can't wait for those slides to be over. All too often they are just our brief played back, but with prettier pictures."

Ouch. Pass the smelling salts.


Mark said:

Lovely little bit of insight!

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