OPINION17 May 2013

Happy never after


Legendary ad man Jeremy Bullmore knows how to get the worst out of a client. He tells all in this exclusive column, first published in Impact Magazine.

A very long time ago, when I was still with an advertising agency, I got thoroughly weary of being asked to make presentations about client/agency relationships. They were all soft stuff; all apple pie and motherhood and close, mutually trusting partnerships. And so to cheer myself up one day, I invented a new client presentation called Ten Tried-and-Trusted Ways to Get the Least from Your Advertising Agency.

Here are a few of them:

  • Keep them feeling insecure
  • Employ at least one incompetent, underworked junior
  • Never admit to a mistake
  • Change your main contact with the agency at least once a year
  • Never say thank you
  • Never pay for a drink
  • Install a highly complex, hierarchical approval system

Each of these techniques was elaborated; the incompetent, underworked junior, for example, should ideally have a slightly ridiculous name such as Beverly, so that the agency could say: “Oh God, Beverly’s in again and wants lunch.”

The reaction of clients to this new-style presentation varied from grudging gratitude to open hostility. Entirely reasonably, many demanded the right to reply – and reply they did. This second presentation, generated entirely by clients, came to be called:

Ten Tried-and-Trusted Ways of Pissing-off Your Client

  • On the day that lack of demand for his product forces him to close a factory, take your client to a black tie awards ceremony where you are presented with an award for your work.
  • When you travel with a client, always see him settled comfortably in economy before you yourself go up front.
  • When showing an existing client the best examples of your current work, under no circumstances include any work that you’ve done for him. Explain that it’s important for your company’s image to be seen to do mould-breaking work.
  • Be sure you leave every client meeting at least once to take another client’s call. On returning, do not fail to comment favourably on the other client’s courage. You may also find it helpful to mention his generosity in the matter of remuneration.
  • Explain to your instant-coffee client that you’re serving real coffee in the meeting because your creative director much prefers it.
  • When you hear that your client has just experienced a huge fire in his warehouse, ring him immediately to enquire if your budget is safe.
  • If your client seems slow to grasp the subtleties of your new proposal, remark: “You seem to be missing the point of this concept. They understood it perfectly well in the groups.”
  • Explain the absence of the expected group of directors by saying: “Yes, I know they were on the pitch team, but they’ve got another one this afternoon.”
  • Take eight people from your side to the presentation. Make sure that five say absolutely nothing. Then, later that day, ask if you could re-negotiate your fee since you’re finding it difficult to break even.
  • After the third rejection of a proposal, enquire of the senior client present, and in front of his subordinates: “It would help us to know who in your company actually has authority.”

Though originally devised to help advertising agencies infuriate their clients, I very much hope that these simple yet time-tested insights may also be of help to research agencies in pursuit of the same end.

This column first appeared in the Business section of Impact, Issue 1. Click here to read the digital flipbook edition.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of ad agency J Walter Thompson London and author of Another Bad Day at the Office?, More Bull More and Apples, Insights and Mad Inventors. He also writes a regular advice column for Management Today and The Guardian and is a patron of the Market Research Society.(Photo: Colin Stout)