An agency driven by fear is a nightmare.

April 8, 2008

Who’s worse: The sadistic account guy, who must always be in control? The vainglorious creative director, who cannot take criticism? The Client from Hell, who is never satisfied and always angry?

A triptych of dicks! Egomaniacal yet insecure, if they have one thing in common it is fear. Fear of being undermined, usurped or just plain found out.

Whatever, I’m scared of Fear. It’s a four-letter word. It’s an “f” word. Fear can do more damage to an ad agency than almost anything, even a dress code. Oh, the horror of fear.

By definition the creative process is fearless. Scared people don’t make anything well except walls and weapons. Humphry Davy and Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb to put out a fire. They were looking forward, which is what creators do. Invention is the by-product of an open mind.

Inside an agency, a fear driven person is battening down the hatches. He plays not to lose. Mind closed, he is constantly preparing for war yet, ironically, ill equipped to win it. The Man of Fear often has a big title. He wears it to meetings like a medal. Always on high alert, he justifies anxiety by claiming the client is always on high alert: They hate our ideas. They are talking to another agency. They are angry…again… with us! When The Man of Fear enters a meeting negativity follows him like bad cologne. Never happy, he often loses his temper. Like a pigeon, he shits on work and then leaves in a flap. He can be a client. More likely, as described above, he is one of our own. I’ve known thankfully just few.

Right now we are at the mercy of one such client. I liken his leadership to that of Hitler in the bunker. In denial over his many stigmas, he is defensive and cruel beyond contempt. I feel sorry for us. Under his yolk we are but slaves.

My fantasy: When a client is scared we are not scared with him. For that’s not empathy; that’s stupidity. On the contrary, our job is to help deliver him from that fear. Make his pain go away. It’s damn hard. Instead, we vacillate between anger and anxiety. Otherwise known as fear.

When a client brings fear into the agency we must try to contain and manage it. Face it properly. Pulling the fire alarm should only be done in an actual emergency. It’s damn hard staying cool. Invariably one of us freaks. Anger and anxiety take hold, sort of like those creepy vines in “The Ruins.” Sadly, we become driven not by the urge to solve our client’s problem but by his fear. We become fear-driven slaves.

FDR famously said: “We have nothing to fear but fear it self.” But what’s the great depression compared to a branding strategy dispute?

7 Responses to “An agency driven by fear is a nightmare.”

  1. David Burn said

    Great post, Steffan. But don’t you fear your client picking up on this? Not that you should fear it, or that it’s likely. Just wondering.

  2. SRP said

    Great question, David.
    But I have a feeling even if the client read my blog (which he won’t), he would not recognize himself as the culprit -such is his denial.
    Ah, life in the big leagues…

  3. Alasdhair said

    And moreover, aencies don’t allow mistakes to be made by its creative department any more. Today’s “Get it right first time, or else” approach is not doing the business any favours. At Google a techie lost he company 7 million. Was he fired? No. Hey, shot happens, move on and learn from it.

  4. SRP said

    And if what we do doesn’t immediately sell product every time out of the gate we are put to the fire. That’s scary!

  5. Great post. I feel ‘fearing’ a client means that you are automatically in a subservient role. Agencies have brought it upon themselves by not adding value (sorry about the cliche) to the client’s business. In India, where I work, the problem is compounded by flight of talent to emerging categories outside advertising – like BPOs.

  6. […] across this great post titled, ‘An agency driven by fear is a nightmare’. Every word of it rang true for me in the context of a typical client-agency relationship, here in […]

  7. Jake said

    Our management always “fear” of loosing a client, we perpetually give in to all their desires. Just now, I got skewered for pointing out to my superiors not to present to a client who is demanding us to come up with a campaign on a very unrealistic deadline. And yet still, we ended up presenting half-baked ideas which I anticipated, wasn’t approved anyway. Sadly, a waste of creative energy born out of fear.

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