Inconvenient truths unwrapped a little

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I wrote a post a few days ago that seems to have gained a little traction, so I thought I might expand on what I mean when I say I often have to tell my clients inconvenient truths (and by inference so should you, with yours).

By way of illustration, let’s rewind to 1995 or so.

The scene is an oak panelled boardroom. (Not mine.)

 “I’ve been thinking about the music track you commissioned for our new (£600,000) commercial and, you know, I play a bit of guitar myself. Have a modest studio in the house… and my best mate is a composer, so… we’ve had a little go ourselves. What do you think?”

My client pressed play as our hearts sank.

[90 seconds later…]

 “Well, I think David Bowie will like it because it’s his tune.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s essentially Heroes*.”

[Long pause]

“Of course it isn’t…and I love it…so that’s the soundtrack for the new ad.”

[Another long pause]

“Well, you’ll have to sign a legal disclaimer that you are going against the advice of your agency because I will not be held responsible for what a musicologist would say was a copy of someone else’s song.”

This is not a typical conversation in my career.

[*I’ve changed the name of the song and the artist in the story for obvious reasons. But the rest is true. The disclaimer was signed. We never made another commercial for that client.]

I’ve carried out a number of fairly significant consultations. In one I was asked to conduct a feasibility study for the expansion of a new service into a market I knew well. The client was clearly very excited about the prospect. I came back with the news that it sucked and not to do it. I gave the client a robust alternative.

The clients went with their own view.

Two years later the service closed down and was re-launched exactly as I had suggested and was a commercial success from then on.

These responses were both extremely inconvenient for my clients. In the first case they got lucky that Mr Bowie didn’t come knocking. In the second they could afford the mistake but it needn’t have been made.

On a daily basis I’m asked for my opinion. And one client actually described me as jaggy (definition: Scottish Pricklya jaggy sweater) when describing my style.

What he meant was that I told inconvenient truths, and you simply can’t do that with a smile on your face.

Telling an inconvenient truth is a jaggy jumper moment. Sorry about that.

The rest of the time I’m pure cashmere.

“We’ve rejected concepts a, b and c because they are too creative and we’re going with concept d as it’s a lot safer.”

Now, what you read above is a mash-up, but it’s composite feedback I’ve heard time and again in a variety of formats and requires the strongest response in the consultancy book. (I should point out that, technically, concept d should never have been presented in the first place, but we all have our weaknesses.)

The inconvenient truth here is that if you truly believe that your work, or the work of your colleagues, will be more effective because it will stand out more and be noticed you need to fight with all your heart and soul for concepts a, b and c.

This is where the word ‘No’ comes strongly into play. As in “No, I think you are making the wrong decision” followed by a convincing argument as to why.

Dave Trott writes again and again and again in Campaign magazine about why over 90% of advertising isn’t even noticed, never mind ineffective.

Most ads are concept d.

Go on. Pick up a copy of today’s paper and see how many of the ads in there actually make you think “that’s interesting”.

Less than 1 in 10.

I know that for a fact.

Digital marketers get all frothy mouthed at 1% click through rates

That means 99 out of 100 people ignored their ad. (No doubt these were all concept d’s.)

But it’s hard to argue with your client who’s paying your or your bosses bill. I know that.

Think of it this way though, you’d respect an interior designer who robustly challenged your choice of pink and green for your living room. You’d bow down to your hairdresser who told you the mullet you so desired was not the best choice of cut in 2016.

These people take inconvenient truths in their stride and we marketers, advertising people and digital marketers would do well to recognise this. And to find ways to articulate why their clients need to know the truth, no matter how undesirable it might be.

We need to stand firm in our professional opinions that concept d should never have been presented in the first place and that it will be bad, not good, for your business to play safe, to be invisible, to become wallpaper.

And it’s not about being brave when we share inconvenient truths with our clients.

It may be jaggy, yes.

But most importantly it’s passionate and honest.

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