Culture of Miscommunication: "The Client Doesn’t Get It."

[December 16, 2011]

Tell me if you’ve heard this one.

You’re minding your own business at a busy agency, when the call comes in from one of your newer clients. They’re not happy with their connunication strategy. 

They want you to present a fresh direction, a new look and feel, a plan to establish them as the category thought leader in a way that won’t alienate existing customers. The new approach must, of course be “smart,” “ownable,” “scalable” and have “mobile legs.”

Naturally, no sooner are the words out of their mouths than your bright-eyed account leads promise a full array of deliverables. Instantly, schedules are drawn up, resources are allocated, a kick-off meeting is convened and a bee-hive of activity trembles into high gear. The Concepting Dance begins!

Trouble is, a crucial step is most often skipped between the client’s call to action and the agency’s response.

Curb your enthusiasm.
Instead of jumping in with both feet, pulling ideas from every corner of the digital universe, you need to just stop. Before another hour passes, ask your clients strategic questions, based on an assessment of the communications they’ve launched in the last year. Listen closely to their description—of goals, strategies and, just as important, what they had hoped to acheive.

Then ask them to define their brand position. Yes, you may have gleaned a thing or two when you originally pitched the business, but I guarantee you haven’t heard the whole story.

Whatever topline worship words they may have chanted by rote, when it comes to working out the details of the next campaign, you’ll find your immediate contacts have a personal and, often, more detailed view of where their brand identity lies. More to the point, you’ll perceive the frame of reference that POV inhabits.

Lost in translation.
Only then can you begin a successful process and create concepts that grow out of shared assumptions. Why does this matter? Look at it this way. Over time, I’ve seen countless brilliant, dedicated operatives in every agency discipline waste untold hours crafting concept presentations in excruciating detail—only to discover that, in the words of the bard:

The client doesn’t get it.

With certain rare exceptions, when this happens, it’s for only one reason. You’ve taken the client’s request literally, at face value, without taking into account the corporate marketing culture that produced that request. And in this business, understanding your client’s corporate culture is a corner stone of your success. Unglamorous, perhaps, but true.

Engage your memory and see for yourself how this usually plays out. Agency people hear the word “fresh” and immediately think of a concept based on the voice and tone of the edgiest, hottest trends just hitting the airwaves.

Do the kind of investigative work I’ve described and you’re liable discover that the client’s idea of “fresh” is a change of font or a brand new color scheme—often no more than a minimal swap out of one pastel color pallette for another.

Not that this information won’t eventually make it’s way into your consciousness. But within the typical agency process, it usually only arrives in Round 5, as the deadline looms and you find out to your teeth-gnashing dismay that all your good work is destined for the porcelain file drawer.

Destiny’s child?
So is that it? Is the client’s POV the agancy’s destiny, immutable, unchanging, doggedly “consistent” until its last breath? As I see it, only if you let it be. Because it’s precisely in the initial investigation that you have an opportunity to educate your clients, by turning their self-referential worldview toward a broader vista. 

Of course, this is no time for condescension, or chest-thumping invocations of the latest TED video. It’s simply a matter of ensuring your concept presentation takes place in the context of the broadest possible awareness of the available options.

The modest investment of effort this entails will be rewarded with a rare prize: A communication strategy in tune with its own core message. Instead of a “really cool idea” whittled down to an incomprehensible nub by a half-baked compromise, you’ll have a fully realized messaging strategy that delivers real value to its audience.

That, after all, is what we’re here for. Just as important, having established clear, meaningful communication, you’ll have the possibility to continue the process, enlarging the scope of your mutual vision until you arrive together at higher ground.


0 Responses to “Culture of Miscommunication: "The Client Doesn’t Get It."”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




Enter your email address to receive notification of new posts.

Top Marketing Sites
Blogarama - The Blog Directory
Marketing Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Alltop, all the top stories
HE Blog Directory
Subscribe in Bloglines
Add to Google Reader or Homepage

%d bloggers like this: