Client Whisperers Create A Climate of Receptivity
“The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is." -August Wilson
|David Burn||Mar 16|
My agency runs lean. In part, this is a response to how fat the typical marketing agency is, and how that heft impacts the agency’s culture and the work they make for clients. Now, that we are 11 years into the Bonehook journey, I see that perhaps I run too lean. No one wants to leave money on the table, but a creative in the heat of the ‘maker’s moment’ may do just that.
Let’s go back in time to 2010. Account service is a position I removed from our mix on Day One because, in all the years leading up to the formation of Bonehook, I’d worked with just one handful of account service pros whom I trusted, respected, and liked. Why so few? Competing agendas. My agenda is always the same: Elevate the work to please the client’s customers. While that sounds good on the surface, to get it done typically runs counter to the idea that we must keep the clients happy at all costs.
In the creative department, we make the agency’s product. But the work is always commissioned by a client, and this is where the artists and writers on the account need to make some space for themselves to detach from the work. As makers, naturally we also seek to protect the work, commissioned or not, from being damaged by clumsy decisions or worse. This is where sparks can fly because what we want for all of our clients is to strengthen the bonds they have with customers and prospective customers. To achieve this, we must first strengthen our own agency-client bonds and then make way for a highly functional team to take the field.
The client whisper uses the creative department’s sparks to light the way. That’s not the same thing as letting the embers from the sparks catch the place on fire.
Fanning the Fire, Feeding the Flame
This I have learned. Without a truly gifted account service professional, the agency is exposed. It’s like working outside of a contract—not a good idea. It’s true that I win accounts, and I sell our work and get it produced. Where I fall down is inside the day-to-day complexity of account management. This is where a client whisperer comes in. The client whisperer is invested in the work, as well, but not emotionally invested. Therefore, the client whisperer is fully prepared to advance the ball.
Creatives are desperate to believe that the work speaks for itself. Here’s a hard lesson learned over the past 25 years: No matter how good the work is, it does not speak for itself. In fact, the better the work is the harder it is to explain and sell-in, which makes the need for the client whisperer all the more acute. At this moment, I am actively pursuing a former colleague to fill this role. If you, or someone you know, want to chat about the role, that’s also good.
What Professor Berger Says…
“The most successful change agents don’t push. They don’t add more facts and reasons or provide more information. They take a different approach. They remove barriers. Rather than adding pressure, they reduce friction and lower the hurdles to action.”
Reduce friction and lower the hurdles to action. Now, there’s a guiding principle that we can all refer to and work to abide by.
Choose to Change the Game
My friend and colleague, John January, helped to change the game at Signal Theory by dedicating the agency’s focus to just one industry vertical—food. As Jerry Garcia wisely said, “You do not merely want to be considered the best of the best…you want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”
With John’s example in mind, and Garcia’s call to action always in mind, I do believe it’s time for Bonehook to choose a singular path forward. Thankfully, we’re in Austin where green energy and sustainability are big businesses. I choose The Greening of America!
Bonehook started working with a new client, a rainwater catchment company based in Dripping Springs. We’re now making the company’s brand identity, website, and go-to-market plan in a 90-day sprint.
I am turning the Ad Legends live workshop that I created and delivered to live audiences in late 2019 into a webinar series for students and professors of advertising.
The 2021 Major League Soccer season will feature the debut of the league’s 27th club, Austin FC, and their new world-class stadium.
"Scaling requires that you expand the team, probably with people you haven’t known. You also have to deal with the inevitable personnel challenges, even within the original team. Total loyalty can be toxic." -Marty Zwilling
Work With Me
Thanks for being here now.