As an individual, working for an agency, helping clients to communicate their brands in the most effective way for the outcome of profit/good/sustainability, there are four categories (already mentioned in that sentence) that every Suit must be loyal to.
- Your agency
- Your clients
- Your client’s brand
I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule of which of the above out-rank each other, and I think the reasonable grown up thing to say is that they’re all important.
But there are two things about the above mix I will say for certain (and then I’ll ramble on about each for a bit):
- You owe more loyalty to the client’s brand than to your clients themselves.
- Most people put the ‘yourself’ category lower than they should, and need to elevate it higher for the good of the other three categories.
The first of those two sentences in pretty straight forward. To best explain it, I think it’s best to switch it around by imagining if it wasn’t true.
If you were entirely loyal to the needs, wants and demands of your clients as individuals, then you’d put them above all else. That means that the most important outcome of any meeting, response to any brief, or output of any work is to keep them - personally - happy.
I’ll say I’ve been guilty of getting the mix horribly wrong many moons ago. I once had a client who was never wrong. Ever. What she would say would certainly go. Any insight offered by her on any brief was gospel, and if questioned was met with the harshest criticism.
So working on her briefs became solely about keeping her happy, and being loyal to her happiness above all else.
And what happened once this was the core focus of any response, meeting, or piece of creative? Doing right for her that day became more important than doing what was right - or to clarify what I thought was right - for the brand. Over the course of 9-12 months, the quality of the work was affected, the ability of my agency questioned, and my loyalty to myself in doing strong, meaningful, purposeful and ground-breaking work: diminished.
And it wasn’t her fault.
It was mine.
I let myself become loyal to her being the most important thing because I thought that would maintain a good client / agency relationship. I thought that keeping her happy and her prescriptive feedback exactly matched would be the best thing for me that day, and for her that day, dismissing whether it would be the best thing for the brand that day.
And it rarely was.
I’m going to jump to the second point from above - that Most people put the ‘yourself’ category lower than they should - because it is closely linked to this story.
I recently looked at the portfolio of work I’m proud enough of to put on my website, and I noticed that the one client I spend 90% of my time working on only has to show about 10% of the campaigns I’ve influenced.
It made me ask myself the very honest question of why do I work so hard and so much on a client for which I’m not all that proud of the work? And my answer is that I genuinely believe in the brand, that what it’s advertising are important products that fulfil a very real need for people.
So if I believe in the brand, and choose to work on it so hard, why am I not yet creating work I’m truly proud of? Because I’m not being loyal enough to myself.
I’m not fighting hard enough to get great work in my portfolio. Not fighting hard enough for amazing case study videos of campaigns that I’ve worked so hard to influence. In doing so I’m also not being loyal to my agency, who are going to be reviewed by people who represent the big picture of the brand and not the day-to-day operations of my clients. People who want to see amazing work.
I’m writing this at a time when one huge campaign that I do truly believe in and have pushed so hard to go ahead, that has had the concept killed 4 times as it’s so risky and requires so much bravery from the client… has just had the final go-ahead.
So I stand here at the brink of great work about to be created for a previously risk-adverse client, feeling as though I am getting the mix of loyalty right, and for once including myself.
With this in mind, I'd say selfishness is actually helping your loyalty across all the three other categories. When you create work that you can see will elevate your pride, your job satisfaction, and your career, you're doing your client a favour. This is because you are so committed to making the work great, that you don’t care if they are personally uncomfortable with it, or get upset by it, because you’re doing the best thing for the brand - which is how their performance will be measured.
Back to the lady from story #1 - what happened when she would get reviewed internally for the work on her jobs not being particularly inspiring? She threw me (& the agency) under the bus for not pushing her for strong enough work.
It was enough to make me realise that whilst working in the relationship side of advertising, the clients worth working for are happiest when they can see your loyalty is to something bigger than themselves.