By Matt Smith

Today’s column is not about a great, inspiring piece of creative work produced by an agency in our region.  Instead it’s about a primary ingredient in just about every great piece of advertising I’ve ever seen. What is it?  A great client.

What makes a great client? In a word, trust.  Let me cite an example from advertising icon Bill Bernbach.

For those of you of a certain age, I don’t have to tell you who Bill Bernbach was.  For the younger set, a bit of background is in order.

Bernbach (1911-1982) was the “B” in what is currently known as DDB (founded in 1949 as Doyle Dane Bernbach).  He was also the father of what is commonly referred to as advertising’s “creative revolution” in the 1960s, when the industry, led by the work being produced by DDB, transformed itself.  It evolved from a decades of producing hard-sell advertising to creating a new form of ads that entertained consumers while simultaneously informing them about products and services. I know, it sounds rather elemental today, but believe me, back then it was considered revolutionary.

DDB under Bernbach was at the center of this revolution, creating incredible, exciting new campaigns for clients like Volkswagen (“Think Small”), Avis (“We Try Harder”) and Levy’s Rye Bread (You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Levy’s”).

Bernbach once said that Avis didn’t particularly like the “We Try Harder” campaign when the agency first presented it, but told the agency: “You’re the experts–do what you think is best.”

Bernbach said it was at that moment the weight of responsibility for the campaign’s success shifted. The client treated the agency like a true partner, placing their trust in Bernbach and his team, even though they were initially skeptical of the agency’s efforts.  As a result, Bernbach and DDB felt compelled to work their brains out for Avis so as not to betray that level of trust.

The rest, as they say, is history.  The “We Try Harder” campaign was a smash success and made Avis a household name.

The lesson is simple: If you treat your client like a partner and involve them in your thinking, the trust becomes a two-way street.  The level of trust a client puts in a creative team inspires them and pushes them to produce great work. And great work happens.

We had a similar experience at SmithGifford recently when a new client didn’t like of our casting choices for a commercial, but they nonetheless deferred to our judgment.  Like Avis, they said: “You’re the experts—do what you think is best.”

Two things then happened. We thought very, very hard about our choice. And the entire team, including our production company, ramped up the passion. We all gave 150 percent and the result was some wonderful work in which everyone played a role and thoroughly enjoyed themselves in the process.

It’s a simple truth in our business.  A great client can affect the passion of an agency partner simply by trusting them and believing in their professionalism and experience. To me, that’s leadership at its best, and it’s best way to get the best work out of everyone.

Matt Smith is founder of SmithGifford, and has close to 40 years’ experience as a creative and agency leader at the nation’s top agencies.  SmithGifford is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

You can find Matt Smith’s earlier columns at Oh, That’s Good.

 

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