by Mark Margulies
(Warning: The following article includes a tremendous amount of bitching and whining. Though there is a purpose, those who are trying to cut excess bitching and whining out of their lives might opt to move on to the next article. The Surgeon General has determined that excessive bitching and whining, while a tremendous release that makes you feel great, tends to alienate other people. Please be advised.)
Clear the decks. I'm pissed. I'm pissed because it's frustrating. I'm pissed because it's infuriating. I'm pissed because no matter what we do, we get no respect. And I'm pissed because nine times out of ten, it's our own fault.
What the heck am I talking about? It's time to stop being so wrapped up with what the client "likes."
Oh Lord, he said it. Out loud. Something all of you have thought every now and then but would never put into words because of this prevailing attitude that "the client is always right, and they pay the bills." Bullshirt.
"The client doesn't like their ad...." It amazes me that this is paramount in an Account Executive's mind. Not, "is the client being served PROPERLY?" Not, "is this message right?" Not, "is the client going to get RESULTS?" No. Does the client like the ad?
Who really cares?!?
Whether a client "likes" or "dislikes" an ad is not going to determine whether they remain a viable advertiser on your station. Repeat that. Learn that. It is one of the absolutes that will become your mantra. And for those who don't believe it or think this is just a part of a piss-and-vinegar snit I'm throwing, name ONE client who "loved" their commercial who didn't get results, yet never canceled or threatened to cancel. Name one. It doesn't happen folks, because clients don't judge us on what they like. They judge us on results.
But here's the most compelling part of this entire quagmire: what if the client likes the idea of a flatulating duck in their spot? What if the client wants to yell at their competitor on the air and tell everyone what a no good scumbucket they really are? What if the client wants to dis' the mayor of his very own city in a vitriolic vendetta (yes, it happened)? We exercise selective restraint when we feel it's a detrimental situation to our "air sound," yet could care less if the client's idea is detrimental to their chances for success.
So how about we start acting like professionals and show some restraint when something is detrimental to a CLIENT'S advertising scheme?
I am so tired of this prevailing attitude that somehow our business is so simple and so easy that anyone can do it. I'm so tired of the concept that a client with no experience in radio or broadcast can call the shots as to what goes into their ad, how it's produced, have final say over voices, talent and script and then blame YOU AND YOUR RADIO STATION WHEN IT DOESN'T WORK. That's right, THEY foul it all up with NO understanding of our business, and YOU FALL ON THE SWORD when it doesn't work. Please explain THAT one to me.
It's time to learn a trick or two about taking control back and making your client SUCCESSFUL, because a client who "hates" their commercial is going to hate it time and time again on your radio station, as long as their cash register rings. An unhappy client like that can make you a lot of money. A deliriously happy client who can't get results but may be great to enjoy a shot and a beer with won't make you a dime.
First of all, stop presenting your creative with those annoying words, "Well, do you like this?" Creative should be presented like a professional. If you're presenting copy only, have it done up error-free on station letterhead. Pass it to the client with the words, "Please check this for accuracy and make sure everything is correct." No mention of "likes" or "dislikes" here.
If it's being done as a produced spot or spec, again, never make "liking" it an issue. Have them listen, check the spot for accuracy and explain the idea if need be. Always emphasize the fact that there IS a reason things were done this way.
Say the client starts with their famous "I just don't like this." Remind them, professionally, that this is the work of PROFESSIONALS at your radio station and that, in THEIR opinion, it is the kind of spot most likely to drive results. Most rational clients will understand. The irrational ones will continue with, "No. I still want you to give me something I like. After all, it's MY money." Fine. Just make them sign a written agreement that guarantees they WILL NOT CANCEL based on results. That, as long as you have provided them, OR THEY HAVE PROVIDED YOU, with a commercial that they "like," they'll never cancel it because it's not drawing. And if they don't "like it" after hearing it for a while, they can create a new one or have you come up with another one they like. Do not allow "like" to become the arbiter for whether they continue to remain an advertiser.
The funny thing is, we ask the client "Do you like this?" because we think it's providing top notch service. It's actually providing a top notch DIS-service. You're basically telling the client, "Hey, this job is so simple, you can do it. I'm not really a professional. I'm just an 'order taker'." That's the question. Are you an order taker, or are you someone who's going to make a difference for your client? A professional understands how to consult with a client and guide him in the right direction. Do you think you're serving your client's best interest by turning over complete control to them when they really have NO UNDERSTANDING of how radio works?
And talk about no respect for your job or industry! How would you like to try that one out on another profession for a minute? Imagine a lawyer like Johnnie Cochran. O.J. paid him a TON of dough to help him out of the Big House. You think just because O.J. was footing the bill that Johnnie was sitting there every night going, "Okay, Juice, did you like the way I presented things in court today? Here's tomorrow's briefs. What do you think? Wanna change anything? Got any better ideas?"
It's demeaning. It's impractical. It's not doing your job as a professional. Whether the client likes or dislikes the creative will no more impact its success than whether the client gets to listen to it when it airs. So don't allow it to be a factor when you work to build solid and dedicated clients.
I leave you with this reminder. Those of you old enough to remember probably still smile when you think of the Alka-Seltzer spot that featured the saying, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." It became universally loved almost instantaneously and was eventually so pervasive, it became more than a commercial; it became a part of the American lexicon. The client loved it. The audience loved it. The industry loved it too, bestowing its highest honor, a Clio, upon the agency that created it. That same agency, by the way, was fired some six months later. Reason? Over that period of time, Alka-Seltzer sales dropped.
Think about that the next time you ask your client, "Do you like this?"