In the face of evil…

In a 2005 concert recording of U2’s lovely ballad, Miss Sarajevo Bono prefaces the number by offering a prayer to victims of a then-recent terrorist bombing in London. The prayer (paraphrasing) is that “we don’t become a monster to slay a monster.” What he was suggesting, I think, is that the US and UK resist warfare to deal with the terrorists.

I think about that prayer. Granted, not in the noble context Bono gave it but in an everyday sort of way. It’s a big idea for a prayer and I don’t mean to belittle it but sometimes I think about those words in terms of relating to difficult people or circumstances, sort of like praying for your enemies.

On that note, I’d like to reflect on one the most difficult clients I have ever encountered. I won’t name them. They are dead to me now. For the sake of this piece think of them as the worst client you have ever faced. See if you can relate…

To creating endless versions of copy only to be rejected, redirected and even insulted for ineptitude.

To egregious meeting times that are completely indifferent to your schedule or any reasonable schedule.

To having quality people burned up, sometimes quitting or (almost a mercy) being asked off the business.

To compromising one’s principles in a futile attempt to meet so many impossible demands.

To helplessly watching as an entire team loses all hope that anything they do will ever get bought, let alone made.

To the realization that even if something were produced it would only be CRAP.

To getting to the point where even black humor has lost its power.

To enduring brutal closed-door meetings about a failing relationship and inevitably bleaker outcomes.

And yes, because it matters: to not getting paid.

God forbid if this sounds familiar. Your client has become a foe. They will fire you. Their passive aggression can have no other outcome. Yet, other than put up with abuse and keep on keeping on, what does an agency do in the meantime? What can it do?

For most of us resigning business –no matter the circumstances- will have negative repercussions on the numbers, on staffing, on perceptions in the marketplace. The client is a bird in the hand even if it is a vulture. Deeper down, perhaps, resignation is an admission of failure. Whatever the reason, letting business go never seems like an option. In all my years, I have never been part of an agency that has resigned a client… even the one I allude to above.

So the prayer for the “meantime” is that we don’t become a monster.

That means holding on to one’s culture and, if at all possible, one’s people. It means resisting punishing those who had the thankless task of tending to the beast. We don’t point fingers. We won’t lash out at our fellows or take ugliness home to our families. In short, we do not become the monster.

Recently, I wrote about assholes in the workplace and all the trouble they cause. Shortly thereafter a good friend and peer sent me the following transcript. The writer is a person of integrity and an all-around good soul. The author asked that I publish it as a mea culpa. I don’t know if he needs to own that burden. Or if publishing it will do any good. But I certainly feel the pain in his words. Sometimes a forum helps. I hope so…

I understand that this may not be the forum for this but it figures greatly in the business we are in…

I own a small production company with several talented directors.  On the merits of one of our directors we landed a large job for a large client from a small agency that is associated with a larger agency.  Prior to accepting the assignment our head of production, my employee, and I discussed the fact that the head of this smaller agency had the reputation as being verbally abusive, and history had shown that the bigger the job, money wise, the more he felt licensed to be abusive.

We have worked with the screamers; albeit ten years ago and very seldom were they from the agency side, and decided we could weather the storm.  Two plus months have passed and the production has been successful, but the verbal abuse started from day one and although tedious we had gotten past it.

Until last Monday night.

Last Monday night our head of production was in a restaurant with the agency client and his agency producer.  As the night wore on his insults commenced and suddenly in a fit of rage, he struck my employee.  What the outcome of this very sad night will be in the hands of my employee and her husband.

The point of my story is that let’s face it; the money motivated us.  As an employer I put not only my assaulted employee in harms way, but also every one of my employees.  I have been producing commercials for nearly 30 years and still at this point there are lessons to be learned.  Not all the money in the world was worth the pain, humiliation and anger that my employee and her family was forced to endure.  And not all the money in the world is worth the guilt and stupidity I feel today.

And I thought shit like this only happened on Mad Men. (Story published word for word)

“I just know your red nose will help me navigate social media.”

Last weekend I read yet another article featuring a chief marketing officer bemoaning his advertising agency for being out of touch with new media. Here is Part II of my response…

For the entire twentieth century brands endeavored to grow by alleging they bring people together. Indeed, connectivity has long been the uber-strategy of so many of our biggest clients: CPG, QSR, Telco, beverages and spirits, the list goes on; you name a brand and I’ll show you a connectivity strategy. The Holy Grail was to create an obsession around brands. A cult. Nike, Coke, McDonalds, Apple and so many others claim –often rightfully- to have done just that. And they’ve done so with our help.

But client’s now bellow (sometimes at us): “We need to be part of the conversation. We need to engage people!” Clueless about these new paradigms, the much-educated CMO is frustrated. He clamors for relevance like a drowning man over a life preserver. He wants “likes” and “fans” and “followers.” In some respects advertisers are dogs chasing their tails. The faster they run the more frustrating things get. Agencies become their scapegoats. But isn’t that like blaming the pusher because the drugs don’t work?

“Make me relevant!”

Besides, whenever we created something new and different you called it “edgy” and “hard core.” We’re not selling skateboards to skinheads, you said. Guess what? We cut our shit with vanilla because you make us. But now the world is upside down. Everyone is praying to new and different Gods. Indeed, the new, new thing is the only thing. And guess what? Your best chance at getting religion is with us misfits in the creative department.

While we’ve all got a lot to learn, the ad industry began digging into new media before most industries. Likely including yours. That makes us the closest thing to experts your money can buy. Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys. I suggest you stop making fun of the red nose.


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