Matthew Miller
Sep 26, 2018

Marriage advice for clients and agencies

Clients and agency people wore blindfolds for a show of hands about which clients get great work, and which get "crap".

Marriage advice for clients and agencies

A session on client-agency relationships at Spikes Asia 2018 this morning ended up sounding like a marriage counseling session—for good reason.

In a big reveal at the end of the talk, John Bailey, president director of DDB Indonesia, and Lakish Hatalkar, MD of One Johnson & Johnson Indonesia, admitted that they'd taken the five pieces of advice they expounded on (see below) directly from a post on Yes, they literally copied the bones of their presentation from a marriage counselor.

While the advice might seem obvious and well-worn, Hatalkar observed that as with real marriages, the key to a successful agency-client relations is the work you put in. "How much time do you actually spend on making this happen?" he asked the assembled delegates. "On making this work? Are we being serious?"

Bailey and Hatalkar started the session by blindfolding first the clients in the audience and then the agency people. While their counterparts couldn't see, the duo asked agency folks to reveal whether they always give their best, and then asked clients to raise their hands if they believed they always get the best out of their agencies.

Though it was hard for this reporter to get an accurate count quickly, Bailey noted that the number of clients who believe they're getting the best out of their agencies tends to be higher than the number of agencies who swear they're giving their best to all their clients.

Some clients get great work, but others get crap, Bailey said. 

For the record, the five pieces of advice to avoid being a crappy partner, which Bailey and Haltakar illustrated with videos from the likes of Monty Python and Gordon Ramsey, were:

  1. Too many cooks spoil the soup. With layers of local, regional and global management on both sides, it's important to have one person on each side making the final call.
  2. Expect some friction: Tough conversations should be expected, but as long as both sides are respectful about how they converse, they can constructively exchange even heated views. "If those conversations aren't happeneing, that's a sure sign of a bad relationship," Haltakar said.
  3. "For God's sake, ask," Bailey urged. To ensure understanding, there snould be no stupid questions, and both sides should ask for what they need.
  4. Don't buy a dog and then bark yourself: Empower an agency to do what it does best, rather than simply making it sit up and speak on command.
  5. Expect the unexpected. Bailey said the key here is to set a very high bar, and "ask for audacious". Otherwise, he admitted, agencies will figure out a client's "comfort zone"—the minimum it's willing to accept.

For evidence of what good partners can achieve, the pair pointed to a campaign/movement for Johnson & Johnson's Clean & Clear in Indonesia, which challenged the concept of skin whitening. 

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