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Guest Column: Advtg is a business of ideas, not slides - Syed Amjad Ali

29-November-2013
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Guest Column: Advtg is a business of ideas, not slides - Syed Amjad Ali

These are some of the favorite excuses in advertising – “We are stuck in a traffic jam, running late by 30 minutes”, “The printer isn’t working, so we will take time”, “The studio is trying to retrieve the hard disk, film will get delayed”, “The file is heavy, it will take one hour to download”, “Have already sent you the mail, haven’t you got it?” Welcome to the world of client servicing, the management interface and the managers of the expectations.

In advertising, client servicing has always played a very significant role. Once upon a time, client servicing was a strategist, presenter, researcher, all rolled into one. Today client servicing executives are fast converting into functional lieutenants. The account executives often grew up in rank to occupy top positions, and some even became the showman. This is fast changing now. Of course, there are exceptions, and the good ones are really great. But it is always about the masses, which now seem to be lagging behind. Like Alan Parsons ‘What goes up, must come down’, the business of client servicing is genuinely losing grip.

Not so long ago, advertising attracted talent from premier business schools and other business schools of repute. Today, they don’t even consider advertising. And the reasons are purely economic. Given the commission and revenue torture that advertising industry has gone through, it is a no brainer to understand what went wrong. Clients kept negotiating the commissions, and as a result, the industry couldn’t afford high salaries. And it will only get worse as no client in his senses would reverse this process. As if this wasn’t enough, the slowdown broke the momentum completely as spending money on advertising is always the first to get hit. The moolah available is directly proportional to the talent available in the industry. Till such time as the situation improves, the agencies would continue to hire fresh graduates at embarrassingly low salaries. The people entering advertising are doing it by default rather than by choice. When one hires a high profile executive, organisations spend a lot of time getting to know them, their strengths, weaknesses, etc. But when graduates are hired, they are simply asked to join from the next day. Eventually, it is the same set of people who become mainstream executives in a few years.

This financial crunch has another side to it. Earlier, client servicing would spend a lot of time on the businesses and in the market. Some of them would probably know more than their clients. Today, there are lesser people doing more work, year after year. That makes them immensely burdened with work, which doesn’t allow them to deep dive into the brands. Market visits are things of the past now.

Possibly it was the marginalised role of client servicing that fuelled the role of planning. They seem to be plugging the areas which typically were done best by client servicing. In fact, quite a lot of planners were originally client servicing people. Their migration to planning further added to the misery. Today, clients have started demanding for planning, and this trend is bound to rise. It is like the dowry that they get while choosing an agency. Ironically, some of them are unfamiliar with the role of planning, but they never stop demanding for this function. But that’s beside the point. The role of planning as the strategy police has made the biggest dent into servicing, and it would actually be fair to say that planning would remain the biggest enemy of client servicing in the future.

Advertising is a business of ideas, and not slides. That’s what each advertising person needs to understand very clearly. One would have often heard clients saying in pitches “The strategy was fantastic, but you know, the creative was just ok”. This statement makes it evidently clear that no amount of slides can compensate for a great creative product on the table. A great idea is all that is needed. And the ones who bring those ideas are the ones who are respected the most. No wonder then that the good creative people are most sought after people today. The good ones are strategists too, and often they are the ones who define the strategy, and the slides are re-written just before the presentations. Today, the clients talk to creative people directly as they strongly believe that they would provide solutions faster. Client servicing needs to understand this reality well and needs to work cohesively with creative.

Client servicing needs to evolve. The first step is to take complete charge of the brief. The other opportunity is where the world is likely to gravitate, i.e. digital. They will achieve the pioneering status if they are able to understand and drive digital. It is time for them to reinvent completely, and what better than looking at the emerging trends. Importantly, they need to be passionate about the creative product. The soul of client servicing would then come back and with it the lost glory too.

The author is Executive Vice President, Lowe Lintas. The views expressed are strictly personal

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