new agencies, new clients


Thanks to Irene Done (via Tom Asacker), this quote from Dan Wieden of the agency Wieden + Kennedy. 

"What is critical is not what P&G and Wieden have in common, but what we absolutely do not have in common.  "It is our differences that will push both sides to develop a better model suited for the times ahead."

Yikes. I was some years ago visiting the Chiat Day agency in Venice Beach, California, the one, as above, designed by Frank Gehry, that had the binoculars outside.  I was there with my client, a very talented guy who worked for the Coca-Cola Company (TCCC), and we had come bearing what we thought was a good idea for TCCC and the hope that Chiat Day would help us develop it. 

Talk about naïve! No, Chiat Day was not interested in our idea.  What they were interested in was having us bow before the genius that was Chiat Day.  We were ushered into a small room where very attractive people made a point of telling us how lucky we were to be there. 

The chief rhetorical device was a sense of rapt anticipation…as in, “I’m so excited that you’re so lucky.  This is going to be great! You are going to meet Mr. Morrison*! Wow, what a extraordinary day this is for you!”

When we did not warm to this, they got all explicit on our ass.

“You know who you’re going to meet, don’t you?”

 “Um, no, who?”

 “Robert Morrison!!!”

 “Oh, that’s great,” we said, with manifestly feigned enthusiasm.

Generally, I do what I’m told.  But my client from TCCC is a certified talent, I mean a real “don’t mess with him” talent. I once saw him beard an entire room of his colleagues at TCCC.  As we were taking our seats, he said, “this is what we should do.”  And we said, “well, why not let the adults think this one through?”  And about an hour later, after we had exerted ourselves heroically, there was a little sign hanging over the proceedings.  “The kid’s right.  We’re done here.” We gathered what remained of our self love, and left.

But my client was on his best behavior and we suffered this patronizing treatment without protest. We did our best to look on admiring as Mr. Morrison treated us to the full measure of his genius.  Ever so modestly, we wondered if Morrison and his brilliant team might consider the idea we had brought with us. Hah! We clearly did not understand. 

We were the milk fed client, the great shaggy, four legged beast.  We didn’t have ideas. And this is why we were so fabulously fortunate to find ourselves in the presence of Robert Morrison, idea incarnate, routine producer of the BFI (big fucking idea), captain of consumer preference, the very fount of brand value, the man without whom capitalism would indeed merely and always the captive of the dismal science.  If there was color in the world, if there was joy in any heart, if there was thought in any head, it was because Mr. Robert Morrison had put it there. Surely, we could see this.  I mean, it was the single most shameless act of patronizing I have ever seen.  Count your blessings. Come to Jesus.  And shut up with the ideas, already.

Sorry, got carried away there a little. (I think I still always think of Friday as “story day.”  As a kid, my local library would read stories on Fridays, and I haven’t got over it, apparently.)   The point I wish to make is that the remark from Wieden marks how much things have changed.  Agencies are, some of them, the best ones, at least, no longer God’s gift.  They are now there to listen and, actually, there to learn.  Wieden takes this a step further. The agency is there to change as the client does.  Indeed, client and agency will transform as they interact with one another.  (They are becoming in the language of complexity theory, complex adapative systems!)

I am fast running out of time here, but let me propose that we think of this in terms of a four part table.  (When I have the time, I will try to produce this graphically.) 

In the upper left cell, we have client and agency both as gods.  The game here is for the agency to persuade the client that they, the agency, have just had a BFI (as invented by the likes of Mr. Morrison) and that they (the client) must now pay the agency a huge amount of money.  Mark this cell: Agency god, Client god.

In the lower left cell, we have the agency as god and the client has supplicant.  This was the model operating with the Chiat Day case described above.  In this case, the agency doesn’t even pretend to solicit ideas from the client.

In the upper right cell, we have client as god, agency as supplicant. In a competitive marketplace, this is what you would think all relationships look like, and perhaps today many of them do.  Frankly, I think it’s the account manager who does the supplication, and often the creative team remains committed to the “do you have any idea how lucky you are to be working with us” model. 

In the lower right cell, we are looking at “client not a god, agency not a god,” and this appears to be where Wieden has located his agency’s relationship with P&G.  And this is really interesting. Now we are looking at a relationship in which both organization are moving at the speed of light, both are undergoing a continual transformation, and the relationship between them will amount to a daring in space docking which may or may not both organizations forever transformed.

Or, thanks to Dilys, this vastly better image.


So do we learn to live with dynamism. (Thanks for coming to “story time on Fridays.”) 

* not his real name.


The full story from Adweek.


With thanks to Dilys for the image.

5 thoughts on “new agencies, new clients

  1. Keelay

    If this is story day, give me more.

    It is really nice to have this blog as window into what you do.

    Today – it just seemed the window was opened a little wider.

  2. dilys

    Is Chiat Day the agency that publicized its EQ-clueless layout re-design strategy of making everyone sit in a different cubicle every day?

  3. jens

    in the 70s, 80s, 90s the “agency=god” variations of this model were the formula for success. creative exellence was/is achieved by keeping the beancounters as far away from the creative teams as possible. the separation of innovation/creation on the one side and administration on the other still is as important today.
    as we learnt in scientific management, a business organisation is run on the principles of measurement and control. the processes corporations are run by are linear.
    creativity though travels a different path. creative processes are open, non linear processes. once you started a creative process you have no means to control or measure it until the result is being delivered.
    separation between administration/management and creation is crucial for the result.
    agency as pure supplier of funny pictures leads to mediocre results.
    the principle of separation is vital.
    arrogance/ignorance on one side or both sides secured exellence in the agency=god cells of the mcgracken-matrix.

    and today we see this traditional success formula coming to an end. why? because for one BRAND demands more control over creativity in the various sectors (ads, pr, cd, design…). coordination is key. arrogance is fatal.

    how to bring those to things together that obviously are so comletely different.
    first of all by recognizing the differences and by creating interaction processes that pay respect to that fact.

    remember couple therapy: recognizing, respecting and embracing the differences is crucial for vital interaction.

    management is not design.
    design is not management.

    successful design management starts exactly here. and it builds processes of interaction that respect these differences.

    “It is our differences that will push both sides to develop a better model suited for the times ahead.”

    that’s it.

  4. Grant

    Keelay, thanks, but it is “story time.” Grant

    Dilys, good memory, as a matter of fact, it was this very era. Thanks, Grant

    Jens, yes, I get that the separation of church and state here was once a good idea, and I think one of the reason that we can bring down the barrier between them, and I agree that the many pieces of the marketing mechanism IS one of them, is that the corporation is much less linear and anti-creative than it used to be. The best ones, P&G say, are a little like an idea in the mind of the agency (whatever else they are) capable of being changed, revised, transformed in the blink of an eye. Thanks! Grant

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