I’ve been thinking about agency-performance contracts and it struck me that there are certain words in these that we all use loosely and without due consideration. These words are vital and it is in our interest to ensure that they are well understood. They need to be unpacked, qualified and substantiated to ensure that we are all on the same page.
One of those words is passion. Every agency claims to be a collection of passionate creative souls. Every client claims to be passionate about its brands. Every agency-performance contract stipulates that agencies need to show passion for their client’s business, brands and services.
But nowhere have I come across an explanation for what it means to be passionate. We all assume we know what passion looks like until one party accuses the other of not displaying it.
As an advertising agency, being passionate means going to the nth degree to ensure that our work is crafted. It means fighting for great ideas. It means pouring our souls into our profession and giving our best effort at all times. It means fighting for the consumer’s voice to be heard. It means believing in an ideal and a higher purpose that transcends day-to-day living.
It also means putting in long hours and never switching off mentally. We let ideas float non-stop in our minds because we want nothing more than to solve our clients’ business challenges.
The responsibility of the agency
Our responsibility as agencies is to show our clients that being passionate about ideas should not be misconstrued with stubbornness or close-mindedness. I deliberately use the word responsibility because we have to demonstrate to our clients that our love for ideas is in aid of their business success, and not self-serving.
We are often accused of being more loyal to creative awards than business success. There is no reason that the two cannot co-exist. Yes, it is important for us to show that we are guided by KPIs and financial acronyms. It is also important that all members of the agency team, not just strategic planners, are able to hold their own strategically, when dealing with the client.
But that’s only half the battle won. The other half is our ability to demonstrate genuine passion for the brands we are entrusted with.
The role of the client
Clients have a huge role to play in inspiring passion among their agency partners. They have to make it their mission to see to it that their brands are handled by people who are passionate about achieving greatness.
The lesson here for all of us is that you cannot ordain or prescribe passion. You cannot mandate or enforce it. It is earned. It is inspired. It is cultivated. It is borne out of positive energy, an inspiring vision and a galvanizing purpose. You have to care, to be passionate.
Clients that treat their agencies as true partners, partners who are valued and respected, are rewarded with passion. Being heavy-handed, mean and bossy doesn’t make for a passionate relationship.
Realistic vs fair
Is it realistic for clients to expect their agency partners to be passionate about their brands when they themselves do not show much passion for their jobs? The truth is we feed off of clients’ energy and enthusiasm.
Is it realistic for clients to expect agencies to be passionate when agencies feel as if they are not being remunerated fairly? Agencies struggle to keep their staff motivated and energised if they lack the wherewithal to create a conducive environment for this to happen. I’m deliberately using the word “realistic” instead of “fair” because it won’t assist us to go down the fair vs unfair route.
What we need to do, together with our clients, is invest time and energy in creating passion in our relationship and in the work. Work that lacks passion does not make an impact in the marketplace. It might have potential but it won’t succeed in moving people.
How do you know?
So how do you know when your client is passionate about its business, about its relationship with you as an agency partner and passionate about creative work? It is a marketer’s job to obsess upon consumer insights. She or he are tasked with using the marketing process to deliver upon consumer’s unmet needs.
Passionate clients take this responsibility seriously. They tend to display an impressive understanding of what drives consumers. They tend to be driven, influential thought-leaders who are able to marshall multiple stakeholders behind a chosen vision. They are strong leaders who are able to inspire, collaborate and influence across all levels of seniority. And, most importantly, they have an opinion and they are decisive. There’s nothing worse than a marketer who sits on the fence and shies away from making decisions. Being passionate means fighting for what you believe.
Falling in love
There is no silver bullet to help us retain clients forever, but there are things we can do to ignite passion in our relationships with our clients. Let’s avoid obvious passion-killers and, instead, invest all our energies into making our clients fall in love with the creative process and all its outputs.