Give Them What they Ask For but Not Really

4 min read
May 04, 2012

ThePitch AMC’s new reality series “The Pitch” has been one of the many topics of discussion at Highbrid Media HQ this week, as I’m sure it has been amongst other advertising professionals and agencies. If you’re not familiar it’s AMC’s attempt to bring you a modern day behind the scenes (reality) look at what it takes to be Sterling Cooper Draper Price the agency from there critically acclaimed drama Mad Men.  Two ad Agencies go head to head for large notable accounts that for some of the agencies will be another feather in their cap allowing them to add a strong case study to the portfolio and secure future business in that sector, and for other agencies is the difference between the agency staying open or having to close its doors. Overall I like the show so far, probably because I’ve worked in the industry for the greater part of my professional career, so it’s intriguing to see it played out in a reality series drama even though it’s a simplified cliff note version of what really goes on.

Probably the most genuine part of the show is when the agencies are being briefed by the clients on what they’re looking for in bringing on a new agency of record. This includes everything from what they want in an agency, if they're hiring the agency for a specific project or product line, what they’re looking for in a campaign, target demographic, and preferred mediums and techniques for delivering the message. This needs analysis or discovery as it’s sometimes called is very important to any campaign; it’s the client telling you exactly what they want for their brand and how they want it to be portrayed. W/O this briefing it’s impossible to confidently pick a direction for the campaign that is going to make your client happy and produce the results everyone involved desires.

Often times during the discovery period a client will use “buzzwords” like: new, innovative, cutting edge, social media, viral, mobile and the list goes on and on. They’ll tell you to push the envelope, be creative. They’ll say things like “The Company is moving in another direction and we want this campaign to reflect that” or “the reason we brought you in here is b/c your company is known for its creativity and out of the box thinking that’s exactly what we need.” The mistake that a lot of us make including some of the agencies featured in “The Pitch” is that they take those words literally and go so far to the left that it takes the clients out of there comfort zone, they call it comfort zone for a reason.

I know what you’re thinking “don’t you give the client exactly what they’re asking for? “ The answer: It’s complicated. Most companies/people are copycats the reason why they copy is b/c it’s comforting to know that someone else has already done it and were relatively successful w/o too much discomfort and avoiding disaster. So when a multimillion dollar company tells you "We want to be cutting edge" what they really mean is our competitor took a chance on a wacky new idea and did well give us a wacky new idea that’ll work well too!

Also as was displayed in the premier episode in large companies the decisions are rarely made by one person it’s usually a group of managers, executives, board members who make decisions as a collective. So although the one board member or executive invited you in and delivered the message to you about being new and innovative, if the rest of the decision makers are more conservative or traditional following that one person’s instructions can spell your demise. In the double premier episodes of “The Pitch” similar type instructions were given to the competing agencies by Waste Management and Subway who were the clients in each episode. In both instances the agency with the more creative, envelope pushing ideas lost.

It’s our job as advertising Mad Men to find that happy medium were a client feels like you’re agency is bringing something new and creative to the table that they feel will be effective and hit the target market, but not so new and over the top creative that they feel like a guinea pig in some agency experiment. How do you go about doing this, as a wise man once told me: “The Game is to be sold, not to be told”


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