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October 31, 2011

The Agency Review.

Advertising is a trillion dollar business.

The science of separating suckers from their hard-earned income is a cornerstone of capitalism, and New York City boasts some of the most successful advertising agencies on earth. The client/agency relationship is a tenuous beast at best, as cut-throat competition vies for multi-million dollar accounts. Having spent no less than ten years mingling with media mavens, the process by which high profile clientele is acquired and retained is pertinent to today’s discussion.

Typically there are three phases in the life of the agency/client relationship. It goes something like this:

First up is the pitch. This is the part where you convince a perspective client that no one can represent their interests better than you. You do research, present a list detailing the wealth of your resources, the skill of your craftsmen, along with awards and testimonials from other satisfied clients. This can take months, and no effort or expense is spared.

If you’re fortunate enough to be awarded the account, you pop a bottle of champagne, because you’re about to be hugely compensated. The bubbly serves as the precursor to settling into the actual day to day work. This is what you asked for, and it can be taxing. The work doesn’t stop with the win, it’s just beginning. Clients can be hard to interpret, they may not know what they want, they may have difficulty articulating their desires, they may ask for one thing and then change their minds at any time for any reason. This part of the relationship requires maintenance, as you’re constantly trying to better understand and please the client. During this stage there is usually lots of bitching, and all of the pretty promises made during the pitch stage are long forgotten.

At least, until the account comes up for review. Contracts have a preset expiration date, at which point a client will analyze how well you interpreted and actualized their needs. They examine quantifiable growth, and the nature of your communication. “Here’s what you did right, here’s where you fell short, here is what we were hoping to see from you, and here is the direction we’d like to take.” It is bluntly set before you: now that our original agreement is coming to a close, persuade us why we should continue to reward you with our business. Other agencies are willing to bend over backwards to prove they can represent our interests better than you. Please, present evidence that you are deserving of being awarded this account, again.

Relationships should work with such ruthless efficiency.

We’ve all seen this game play out in our love lives. During the “pitch” stage, many people will say or do anything to convince you they are “the one” for you. They will leap tall buildings, promise to bring democracy to Cuba, nationalized healthcare to America, and an NBA championship to the New York Knicks. No effort or expense is spared, every ounce of charisma is expended, and grandiose dramatic gestures are made. If successful, the compensation package is significant: you get a friend, a confidant, a companion, a lover.

Once you’ve “won” the business, the real work begins. Anytime you try to meld two lives into one, you’re facing significant challenges. Men and women bring their heritage, their relationship history, their sexual predilections and their idiosyncrasies into relationships. Communicating needs and desires isn’t always clear, and fulfilling them requires honesty, dedication and commitment.

This is usually about the part where all the bitching comes in.

But what would happen if you knew your account was coming up for review? What if partners could sit each other down and say “you went out of your way to persuade me to be with you. Now, you are failing to live up to expectations. There are others who–pointing to heart and/or crotch–desire this, and are willing to do anything to get what I give to you. I’m putting your account up for review. Please, convince me why I should continue to reward you with my attention, my affection, my love, my sex.”

Okay maybe that’s a bit draconian. The client/agency dynamic tends to be one-sided, and few people respond well to being scrutinized. In a healthy, functional relationship, the desire to continually please each other is based on love, not fear. Complacency however, kills relationships. Often once people become involved, they either cease doing the things that attracted a partner in the beginning, or they become unresponsive to change. If I learned anything from watching my parents, it’s this: the second you stop dating, your relationship begins to end. Open, honest communication is required to keep a relationship vibrant, to make sure your needs and those of your partner are being met.

An agency who fails to correctly interpret the needs of a client will have their account terminated. A lover who fails to adore you for who you are, who is unable to present evidence they are deserving of your time, your affection, your love, your sex, should be summarily dismissed. One person’s inability to appreciate you does not diminish you, and–pointing to heart and/or crotch–there will always be another willing to go to the ends of the earth to demonstrate they are deserving of being rewarded with the gift of you.

© Jackie Summers 2011

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