Rob Morrison: Advertising would be so much easier without clients

Hate a client? Of course, you do. We’ve all been tortured by one. Most of us by many more than one. This is Morrison’s version of a classic Christmas story. It has meanness, humour, community spirit and joy. And it will touch your heart.

Go on, admit it. You’ve thought this, or something similar, at least once in your career. Show me a creative who hasn’t had a run-in with a client and I’ll show you a junior (or a liar). It’s a pattern which repeats across agencies, around the world. A couple of quick war stories.

My first proper run-in was with a very posh English client who ran Grants Whisky UK.

After a heated meeting, she demanded, “I don’t want that long-haired Australian on my business, ever again.” Her assumption was someone with my accent couldn’t sell her very Scottish grog. What she didn’t know is I come from a long line of Scots. Hogmanay. Hot toddies. I have tartan in my blood. It still stings, can you tell? Fortunately, the agency shuffled the cards and put me on another account. Someone else worked on the snooty woman’s whisky.

Much later, in the mid-2000s, my little freelance business won a new client but, from the very beginning, I never quite trusted him. I even insisted on part payment halfway through the job – something I’d never done before (or since). When the work had been delivered, he decided he didn’t like it anymore. He tried to re-brief it for a complete re-work. Same budget.

What followed were 70 days chasing an unpaid invoice. It got so ugly I ended up threatening to get the NSW Sheriff’s Office involved with a Writ for Levy of Property.

As I said, war stories.

But, just like any battle, eventually you realise you’re actually on the same side. Truth is, clients are the oxygen of agencies. We literally can’t live without them.

And not just because they pay the bills.

Good clients make the work, work harder. They make it better. They have a perspective we don’t have when our focus is purely on the idea. They know which offers work. They know how pricing changes connect or don’t. They understand the pain points across the spectrum for their audience. It’s easy to forget that the client has to shield the idea through the gauntlet of knives of funster departments like legal, compliance, product, corporate and senior management. If they’re backing your idea, even if it needs slight modification, take that as a compliment.

Because they’re putting their reputation on the line.

So, yes, it’s easy for creatives to get protective of “our idea”. But truth is, it’s all of “our idea”. My advice? Next time a client is giving you a hard time just remember, you’re a small part of their day. It’s better to have them back you, than fight you.

Although, it didn’t help me when I showed a client an idea and their response was, “I want to throw up.” Not really the reaction I was hoping for.

Rob Morrison is a long-running creative. He was creative director at Ogilvy Australia for seven years and before that milestone, creative director at BWM (now BWM Dentsu), George Patterson Y&R (now VMLY&R), The Campaign Palace and Wunderman.

Here are two more Morrison stories on The Stable. (And there are many more to find via search.)

Rob Morrison: Getting fired feels strange. Being Strange helped me bounce back

Rob Morrison: Lancing the myth of freelancing



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