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The rise of the client

Creatives should be prepared to let marketers share their ideas. If the process is a collaboration not a battle, the results can be award-winning


The client is rising. Does that sound scary? Like a bad movie?

The client’s long dark shadow is creeping towards the creative department. The end of creativity. The last nail in my Cannes Lion coffin?

Well it’s time to face the facts.

Clients are here and they are becoming more and more savvy when it comes to creative. Blame the account guy, HBO or the internet all you like, but it’s fact.

So is it doom and gloom for great work? It doesn’t have to be.

Yes, chief marketing officers (CMOs) are becoming more opinionated, more hands-on and more inclined to comment on what is usually the creatives’ domain. I’ve heard the phrase ‘super CMOs’ for the ones who kill an idea. Creeping up behind your ideas. Snatching your baby away.

But in today’s world clients haven’t got a foot in the door. They are through the door with their feet up. And why shouldn’t they be sitting at the creative table? What gives us the right to know everything? I can tell you for a fact that we don’t.

In the past 25 years I have had the pleasure of working with clients who would insist on playing a bigger part in the creative process. But I always look at that as a good way to fast-track work. Gain support from the one person who can bring your ideas to life.

And what I really found amazing is that I learned as much about their business as I did about my own.

The simple fact is that clients have great ideas too.

Is that BS? Well, I have Cannes Gold Lions and D&AD pencils from client ideas. I have sat around discussing ideas with clients and they have given up great ideas. And not one of those clients cared about such things as ownership. All they cared about was that the idea did the job for the brand.

Their ideas are grounded in the product and brand benefits, something that most creatives tend not to care about.

The trick is not to see the relationship with a client as a competition. See it as a chance to build a future. Build a relationship with someone who cares about what we are doing. For the client has much to gain from great work. Great work can help their careers as much as ours.

Now I am not saying that we should open the floodgates. Lots of clients don’t want anything to do with the creative. But we need to be there for the ones who do.

The trick is to make it clear to these clients that to collaborate there are rules. There can be no judging; everyone is equal and everything is for the benefit of the brand.

Believe it or not a client can be a brilliant partner for any creative. If you work together and respect each other, who knows what might happen. Working closer with clients will also help you learn to be counterintuitive, and teach you how to spot an opportunity. Opportunity is often found in the least likely places.

When I look at the great creatives of our time, their ability to build relationships with clients is the real reason they succeeded.

Dan Wieden (co-founder of Wieden & Kennedy) and Phil Knight (chairman emeritus of Nike) are a perfect example. They both let each other enter each other’s lives. Not once a month for a review or a lunch, but every day.

They were not afraid to throw ideas around, to say no to each other. And they were both smart enough to see that great work benefits all, no matter where it comes from. I have seen first hand blazing rows between creative and clients on great brands like Nike. It’s not called disrespect; it’s called passion.

I often hear creative people saying: “The client would not interfere if I were a doctor or lawyer.” Well creativity is not a science. You can’t look at books and x-rays and diagnose an idea.

It’s something in you that you are born with. An emotion. And therefore something that most people possess. Even clients.

When we really understand this we can open up to everyone and everything, including clients who want to take an active part in our work. What have we got to lose? When a client wants to help, let them. Encourage them and be honest with them.

I promise that you will produce more work. I can’t promise that it will be award-winning work. That is solely up to the ideas. That, after all, is the truly hard part. Maybe working closely with clients will help them see just how hard this is.

So I say rise up all you clients. Welcome to the fight for great ideas. All for one and one for all.

Paul Shearer is group chief creative officer for Memac Ogilvy MENA