(Note:This is an updated version of one of the very first weekly Dispatches in June of 2000—one that was entitled “The 3 Client Hats.”But, as you’ll see in this update, there are actually 4 client hats worth thinking about.)
As brand-builders it seems that we are frequently reminding ourselves to “put on our consumer (or customer) hat” when considering how effective a particular promotion, package, or piece of advertising might be, prior to its execution.Such reminders no doubt reflect the dual-role we must play day-in and day-out as marketers and as consumers/customers.
But what about our other big role—that of providing value-added direction to our creative agencies (promotion, packaging, advertising, etc.)?What we’ve observed time and again is that most clients tend to wear one of three “hats” when trying to fill this role:the Inspector’s hat; the Author’s hat; or the Boss’s hat.Unfortunately, wearing any one (or more!) of these hats virtually prevents one from making the most of the full team’s talents, from really leveraging a brand’s creative resource pool.More to the point, these are not typically the hats that one wears to deliver value-added direction.Let’s take a closer look at each hat.
Inspect…to view closely in critical appraisal; to examine officially.The client who wears the Inspector’s hat is the one who usually has less experience in directing creative resources (or any human resources, for that matter).Lacking substantial exposure to the creative process or simply the breadth of experiences from building a number of brands, the Inspector Client only feels comfortable in examining someone’s work to find what’s wrong…which is a relatively easy thing to do anyway, since we’ve all been well-trained in that skill throughout our schooling years.Think about it:early in our kindergarten school days we loved looking at the four pictures and identifying the one that didn’t belong; even today, no wonder so many of us love these reality shows where we can “throw someone off the island, out of the house, or out of the jungle-contest!”
Inspectors are also a pretty easy read.They typically give themselves away with their initial reactions to creative work:using the ever-blunt, “I have a concern with…..” opening statement; or, using the less-blunt (but equally transparent), “Do you really think that….” non-threatening question (that’s really a concern-statement in disguise).What such openings do, of course, is immediately put the creative team and their supporters on the defensive.And because Inspectors don’t usually give creatives an overview of their work, the creatives assume their total work is being attacked and naturally dig in and duke it out.All of which very often leads to a lot of wasted time and missed opportunities to deal with and build upon “what’s right” with the work first.(Likelihood of value-added direction coming from the Client-Inspector:10%.)
Author…one that originates or gives existence.Unlike the typical Inspector, the client who wears the Author’s hat may actually have a fair amount of experience in developing advertising, promotions, and other marketing programs.Unfortunately, so many Author Clients are much less interested in sharing what they’ve learned from their experiences than they are in taking ownership of still more ideas.In other words, regardless of how good some creative submissions might be, the Author won’t be happy until he or she has “put his/her stamp on it” in some tangible way.
At first, new creatives may mistakenly perceive the Author’s unbridled enthusiasm as endorsement of their work; but the Author’s typical comments soon make clear his/her primary (self) interest:“I have another idea for you…”; or, “When I was running such and such brand, I did this kind of execution and it worked great—I’d like you to try it…”; or, the classic, “I’d like you to take part of campaign #2 and put it with part of campaign #4.”The problem with clients wearing the Author’s hat is obvious:a single person responsible for providing direction takes on the actual execution instead…leaving a talented creative team grossly under-leveraged, not to mention highly frustrated.(Likelihood of value-added direction coming from the Client-Author:25%.)
Boss…to exercise control or authority; to give arbitrary orders.While the client who wears the Inspector’s or Author’s hat may not be adding much value or leveraging the creative team’s talents, at least we can say that this client is usually thinking from the consumer’s (or customer’s) perspective.But the client wearing the Boss’s hat approaches the creative work from a completely different—and often irrelevant—perspective:that of the Boss.This client puts on the hat of “giving arbitrary orders” that reflects what his or her boss like or doesn’t like…regardless of what the consumer/customer might like, might get involved with, might act upon.
Like Inspectors, clients with the Boss’s hat on are an easy mark.When presented with something that they have learned from experience that their boss disdains, they are quick to respond with something general like, “Senior management will never buy it,” or even something more specific like, “Brian doesn’t like side-by-sides.”You have to wonder whatever happened to the consumer/customer target when clients deliver these kinds of comments:Is senior management or is Brian in the target market?For that matter, do any one of these folks really even understand who is the target market?(Likelihood of value-added direction coming from the Client-Boss:0%.)
Discouraged by these three hats?Don’t be.Fortunately, there is a 4th hat that any client can wear well, albeit with some practice—one that encourages, rather than discourages.
Coach…to direct, instruct, or prompt.That one hat that every client responsible for human resources of any kind ought to be wearing--all the time--is the Coach’s hat.The Coach-Client knows only too well that it takes a team effort to achieve really great packaging, advertising, promotions, and the like.Moreover, the Coach finds the greatest satisfaction in directing and encouraging all of the brand’s resources toward the achievement of their mutual goals.
The Coach always gives the creative team an overview assessment of their efforts, and then looks for and starts with “what’s good” in the specific creative executions.If he should happen to spot something off-base, he tries to prompt an improvement by building off the good work:“The way you’ve so directly captured the benefit in the key copy words of campaign #3 is hard-hitting and competitive; I’d love to see you be as direct in the key copy words for campaign #6.”Note that the Coach doesn’t feel the need to author those words himself.Rather, he wants the team to “solve for” the right set of words.And also note that instead of talking about what he sees that he doesn’t like, he talks about what he doesn’t see that he would like to see. In short, the Coach-Client never loses sight of her/his overriding responsibility: to motivate toward success.(Likelihood of value-added direction coming from the Client-Coach:150%.)
APPLYING BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
1.Read any books on coaching or by coaches lately?Check out the sports section the next time you visit Barnes & Noble (or Amazon.com, for that matter).Compile your own list of techniques that successful coaches have used to motivate.
2.Ask someone at the agency (whose opinion you respect) to give you feedback on how “well-coached” they feel by you and your client team.Make sure you get feedback from the creative people.
3.If you find yourself unable to resist wearing the Inspector’s, Author’s, or Boss’s hat from time-to-time, make an effort to practice (say, in the privacy of your home-office) turning those Inspector/Author/Boss comments into Coaching ones.
4.Finally, don’t overlook that 5thhat that seems so seldom worn by us clients:the Fan’s hat…Fan—an enthusiastic supporter of a sport or performing art.When you see something creative that’s also really good, there’s no better hat to have on!