Lessons Learned

From time to time I will share real stories from my Incredibly Successful Career (ISC) in marketing.   Some are funny, some are painful, some a bit of both.  They all happened.  Here goes.

In 2003 as I was wrapping up stuff and cleaning out my desk after 20 years at the Seattle office of an inter-galactic super agency I received an email from a client who has since gone on to to lead a Fortune 500 company.  Here it is.  I haven’t changed a word other than to leave his name out to avoid embarrassment for both of us.


I understand you’re moving on to a new phase in your life.  (Here was a bunch of praise about what a genius I am.) I learned a lot from you about managing the client/agency relationship that I will carry with me forever.  Among the key learnings:

1.  Never work with a client that is closer than 2000 miles away.  This minimizes the face-to-face contact that is so unnecessary when you can blame each other for revenue misses and budget overruns by email.

2.  The agency always has an advantage when the client is dysfunctional and disagrees internally about what its brand should stand for and who their consumer is.

3.  Never return emails from the client that challenge why the agency costs so darn much to do everything.

4.  Always return emails from the client that invite you to a “bash” at the trade show, or to a sales meeting in a warm weather place.

A wise man indeed.  Of course I replied.  I will skip the shameless suck-up praise I pored into the email as it might sicken you.

Here is my reply, unchanged:

I can see that you have learned well when it comes to managing the agency/client relationship.  I too learned a few things about clients along the way:

1.  Clients want a partnership with the agency as long as the agency does what the client says.

2.  There is an inverse relationship between how much a client talks about its vision and how real the vision is.

3.  Clients and agencies approve advertising ideas together.  When things go well, the client attributes the success to their incredible business acumen.  When things go poorly, it’s because the agency made the client do bad advertising.

4.  The best clients have sales meetings at really cool places and pay for the agency to stay up late, drink and miss the morning sessions.

5.  The best clients give their agencies lots of free stuff.

6.  The best clients know that the only  good advertising is TV, BABY! Particularly, if the tv shoot can be in Europe, with supermodels, an unlimited expense account and the agency folks get to walk around in black clothes and be on their cell phones/Blackberries constantly.

7.  Most clients will admit that the best thing about having an agency is…TICKETS!

8.  All clients want their agency to be good, cheap and fast.

9.  Bad clients are in the risk aversion business.  Good clients are in the risk management business.


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