The Excitable Client

Ithink we can all agree that, coast to coast, the work isn’t where it should be. These days, “kinda cool” or “smart approach” or “not bad for a big agency” or “not as gimmicky as their other stuff” is high praise. What happened to good old-fashioned envy and the glory days of loathing? I miss resenting creative people everywhere.

It would be easy to blame our old friends Fear, Risk Avoidance and Foolishness. (I’ll refrain from mentioning that recycled talking babies are on the rise. Oh, shoot. I mentioned it.) Instead I’m going to try to offer a solution—something that isn’t itself responsible for great work but is a catalyst for it.

Excitement. Specifically, client excitement. (Hold your snickering and bear with me a sec.)

Overall, the responsibility for bringing passion and energy to the relationship falls primarily on the agency. That’s part of what we’re paid to do. But amazing things can happen when the client brings it, too. Long known as masters of the squelch and burn, clients also have the power to rouse and ignite. They can’t lead us to the promised land of great creative, but they can be right there with us, crossing the desert, offering a cool sip of water from a sheep’s bladder.

Excitable clients are hard to come by. They aren’t driven by making meetings, ticking boxes, spending budgets before year end, showing progress for showing progress’ sake or executing a process. They’re hell-bent on achieving something meaningful in the world, something big. And in the end, they get it done.

Make no mistake, they can be pains in the asses. They e-mail you at 2 in the morning. They nitpick and scrutinize. They have rigorous processes that should hack the heart out of ordinary creatives. But somehow that doesn’t happen. Because enthusiasm holds mysterious sway over creative people. Inexplicably, you find yourself bleeding and sweating over each suggestion and revision, not to win some award but to make sure you don’t let the client down. They’re doing their part back at the ranch, tearing down silos and cutting through layers and carrying the work on their backs, and you need to step up and tweak the copy or add a little punch to the music or kern the type out. So quit your whining.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with such clients in the past and even have a few on the roster now. I’ve thought about where they get their energy from. It’s not necessarily from the beauty inherent in the companies they work for or the products they work on (although they are often “believers”). It’s not simply about their love of advertising and marketing. It seems to be more of a personality thing—they just want to do the right thing out in the marketplace, and they focus their talents and energy on making it happen.

They respect what an energized creative agency can do for them. They’re firm and direct but also nurturing and mindful of our fragile little egos. When they’re around, you can smell success. You know they can’t be stopped, and you want to be there next to them when they’re popping the champagne at the director’s meeting or lighting up something illicit at the award show.

If you’re a client, it’s what you look for in every hire (the excitement thing, not the illicit thing). If you’re an agency, it’s what you look for at that first meeting. We have a policy about meeting with almost every company that calls, just to see who’s on the other side of the table. Because if you find one of these people, you don’t care what brand or category or budget or planet—you want to work with them. They bring possibility. They’ll get you out of bed in the morning, usually with a phone call that begins, “You know, I was thinking …”

The funny thing is, you actually want to hear what it is.