I’m Looking for Clients Who’d Come to my Funeral—and Why You Should Too
By: Eric Kiker
It’s a damned maudlin thing to ask, I know, but picture for just a moment: your own memorial service. What a thing of beauty it is—I mean, minus the fact you’re dead.
The room, sun-drenched and flower-filled. Your favorite music playing, sonically representing you. Moving tributes, one after another from family, friends and clients…were this a film, the phonograph needle responsible for reproducing that favorite music would screech abruptly across the vinyl right about now.
“Clients…At my memorial service?” you question, still notably alive.
Your expected surprise makes this metaphorically sad day even sadder…and truer. Because too many of us live in a world of vendor relationships. And “vendor relationship” is an oxymoron, in which:
- Creativity is viewed as something that can be switched on—like a computer or a toaster oven
- Clear objectives, adequate time, and a reasonable budget are optional hindrances
- Inevitable bumps in the road—those expected and tolerated in human relationships—create the all-too-familiar, “we’re getting fired” panic to burn through the studio
So I’m looking for clients who’d come to my funeral. And I’m arguing that you should, too. Because when you respect the people with whom you’re working and they respect you, when you’re able to see each other as people first, when you (oh my god) like each other—you set off a chain reaction. This is the polar opposite of the type we’re used to in this business; it’s a positive series of cascading dominoes that allow client and agency to:
- see, understand, and adjust to each other’s problems
- withstand quick timeframes, less-than-perfectly-insightful briefs, and on the rare occasion, limited money
- create the kind of relationship that goes beyond, “Yessir, we’ll (reluctantly) take care of it (while cursing you under our breath)” to “Damn straight we’ll get it done! Happy to (and we actually mean that)!”
For me, the thing that gets us into these soul-crushing vendor relationships is the misguided notion that our experience, work processes, and branded tools are materially unique in comparison to those of other agencies—they’re not. At a certain level, we’re all just as good, just as smart, and just as capable. We talk ourselves into thinking the words we use to describe what we do and how we do it separate us, when the real truth is, these are shades of gray differences.
What actually makes us unique is us. Our personalities—the very human parts and pieces that make us good, smart, and capable.
So, given the desire for fulfilling relationships over mere interactions...how do you eclipse your own company’s non-differentiating propaganda and let your incredibly unique people have a chance to mesh with the incredibly unique people from the client side?
Let’s say you get a blind RFP. What should you do in an attempt to assess the likelihood this could be a great relationship? And have a greater chance of winning the business in the bargain?
Invite the prospect to a “get to know you” meal or cocktail hour. Be honest; let the he or she who will be your contact through the pitch process know, you understand there are more similarities than differences between your firm and the others. Be open to the fact, you want to test the chemistry as well as the thinking. Will the other agencies do that? They may make the invitation, but they won’t be honest as to the “why.”
Or ask for a more formal meeting—sure it can be over the phone, but face-to-face is far better. Ask questions about the CMO’s problems and what they’re after. Make it less about the cold, hard facts of the job and more about what’s at stake for that person. In kind, talk about what this piece of business would mean for you—not the firm, you. If you speak about the needs of people, not the brand, there will be less of a question around your ability to bring passion to the work.
Or offer to execute your brand development process in place of a pitch. You’re going to be putting skin in the game; it can come in the cold, lifeless form requested by the RFP, or it can be a zag to your competitors’ zigs. If you can demonstrate what the working relationship will be like, in person, you’ll form a personal connection, if there’s one to be formed. Likewise, your team can vet the client marketing group and answer the question: If it weren’t for the money, would we want to sit across the table from these people?
Now for the big what if? Or series of what ifs:
- What if you don’t hit it off and you ask the prospect if they feel the same?
- What if the prospect says, “Yeah, that’s true, but it’s brave of you to risk the work to bring that up”?
- What if you decide to work together anyway, starting on the grounds of mutual respect?
- What if, no matter what happens, the prospect introduces you to others with whom you might have chemistry?
Remember, in the end, at that remarkably lovely memorial service, the people in attendance will care less about what you did and more about who you were. So strive to transcend the stereotypical vendor relationship—the process will be more enjoyable, the work will be better, your staff will be happier, and you’ll be richer in more ways than money.
Eric J. Kiker, LRXD Chief Strategy Officer & Partner
Eric is a Creative Director turned Brand Strategist, for a really good reason. Frustrated by brand development processes that were too slow, too costly and ultimately written from a consultant’s POV, he invented his own process. It’s called Two Weeks to Truth™.
Since its inception, Two Weeks to Truth has helped brands including Naked Juice, Atkins Nutritionals, Jenny Craig, Curves, Nautica, KC Masterpiece, TCHO Chocolate, Perfect Bar and most recently, Teatulia, find their greatness. And since the process is led with both the consumer and customer (retailer) in mind, its output is immediately usable throughout the entire marketing ecosystem.
These days, in addition to heading up strategy and occasional copywriting stints, Eric’s developing his chops as a writer and speaker. Currently, the two big topic areas are: helping agencies and studios land their best accounts (and best clients) and helping the food industry improve marketing to address the fact, no one knows what to eat!
Eric has won numerous advertising industry awards, including New York and Los Angeles Art Director’s Club, Print Magazine, Graphis, Clio Short List and Archive Magazine’s Top 200 Worldwide Package Designs as well as numerous inclusions on thedieline.com. A career highlight is permanent inclusion in the Library of Congress.
Off duty, he’s a CrossFitting, Macro Counting, Functional-Medicine-obsessed piece of work. His wife, Linda, dog RWBY and NYC-resident son, Leo look on with a mixture of pride and annoyance.