Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are We But Prostitutes?

An attention grabbing title I know, but necessary I feel.

I was reading Mr Bawa's post here and looking at the comments. Now I'm no advertising or creative type but I do have some experience of dealing with them and maintain a fascination for the ad and media related side of things.

The specifics aren't actually relevant to my post, though they'll probably interest others. What struck my eye was the comment by thekillromeoproject, who I hope will allow me to address him as TKRP, and the subsequent response by Mr Bawa, who I hope I may address as NB, despite the fact I'm not a friend, though I do come in peace. I don't possess the technical knowledge that enables other bloggers to link to comments so I'll just paste NB's reply here:

"Kill Romeo, Really ???? If so it is unfortunate. But in that case the agency concerned should have fired the client? Did they ? Why did they give into client's unfair, unethical demand? Why did they endorse the mockery of the client then? Why didn't they walk out ????"

It sent my mind off on a not very tangential tangent, of business and music, of the prostitution that I and many have to do in our everyday lives.

As a co owner of what is now a medium sized company I report to several sets of people. The old adage that you don't answer to anyone when you work for yourself is a total fallacy, just ask anyone who runs their own show and they'll agree. I'd give this advice to any person starting up a business today; you will report to many people and, if Lalith Kotelalwala wants to borrow any money from you, then think very carefully.

I report to the shareholders, of which I am one, the staff, my fellow directors and our customers.

This means that I'm often at the mercy of all of them, it means that frequently I have to put practical considerations before my pride. It's a bummer, yet it's just business life.

NB's comment reminded me of the many times I've had to bite my lip when talking to a client, the occasions when I know that the customer is being wholly unreasonable, but to say no would be to the short term detriment of my business.

On the other hand there have been many times when I, or my fellow Directors, have said no to unreasonable demands because we feel that the client has pushed too far and that our business can withstand the negative financial consequences of the decision. We entered 2008 having lost our largest client for exactly that reason, we had refused to give the customer a credit for something that we knew wasn't down to us. It was a big and painful choice but we thought it was the right one. The result? We lost the client and most of our efforts to gain new business in 2008 went towards getting us to the position in which we finished 2007.

Would I do the same again? Too right would I, but it hurts.

There are other times when we have to prostitute ourselves, when we know that the customer is wrong, but that other old adage that you never win an argument with a customer comes into play. While I'm thinking about it I wonder if there's such a thing as a new adage. Maybe I'll make one.

I don't know what the reasoning and logic behind the specific case mentioned by TKRP was but surely all business people have been in the situation when you want to bin a client because of unreasonable and / or unethical demands but have quite simply needed the revenue.

We have one customer who's so quick to get on the phone and rant and rave at the slightest hint of a problem, no matter where it's come from, that I wonder how on earth she actually makes it into work in the morning without getting beaten up by someone she's been rude to. At least one other person in my company as well as myself have actually asked her not to swear to us on the phone. It's unacceptable and I know that sooner or later we'll tell her that we're no longer prepared to deal with her under the circumstances. The problem for us is that one of our competitors will.

That's the business side. Over in my other life, the music side, there's a parallel, one that I reckon all musicians will relate to, maybe even us drummers. It's simple and it's dichotomous. It's the fact that we, the band, usually have to make continual choices between playing what we like and playing what the audience like. Of course this doesn't apply to the world famous artistes that normal folks like us pay fortunes to go and see. No, it applies to lowly covers bands playing in pubs on a Friday night to an audience who want to sing along and just have fun.

You know something, I hate I Predict A Riot, I can't stand Brown Sugar and if I see another forty something person pretending they're in the video for Teen Spirit I think I might even contemplate, quite seriously, knocking over one of my cymbal stands, not so it would fall down, just to make it wobble a bit. But we often have to play these songs, because we're there to try to help people have a good couple of hours.

The perfect scenarios for me would be to own a Company that could do exactly as I wanted and to be a musician that only ever played the songs I wanted to.

But it won't happen. I bet even Bill Gates has to play a song now and again that he hates and I'm sure Dave Grohl occasionally has to grovel to a customer he hates.

Or something like that.

Thoughts please people?


Maharajah of Bad said...

yes you ARE a prostitute. For attention.

Gehan said...

yay! the maharajah is back..

ok seriously, nibras is a jackass.. of epic proportions.. i appreciate his supposed superiority in all things ad-related, but he wouldnt know humility if it bit him in the marbles and regurgitated them on his face...

sorry.. too graphic? u get my point...

i think u said it best.. da boy better be real good at what he does, cos if he ever finds himself on da way down, he's gnna need those 'underlings' that he trampled on...

thekillromeoproject said...

NB 'seems' to hold some very high ideals when it comes to business practices, and if he has the luxury to do so, good for him. But for most of us treading the fine line between despising a client for his stupidity and needing his continued financial income is a daily issue.

I think one has to be extremely naive and idealistic to expect corporates to walk out on their clients just because there's a difference in opinion.

ViceUnVersa said...

There is an invisible fine line RD. Advertising is a business, but at the same time it’s a craft. When you commission an ad agency you give them a tight brief and borrowing from the words of Neil French you expect them to plant a bigger, better flag on the summit of the mountain. It’s very much a people’s business, so respect between one another is extremely important.
As the owner of a business will you sell your soul for revenue? Yes if it’s to the benefit of the company and most importantly your employees.
Fortunately in the rest of the world the ad agencies that stick to business ethics are more than those who do not. In Sri Lanka, it’s just a very few. Mainly because Sri Lanka still do not have proper laws governing business ethics, not restricted to advertising.
But it’s the marketing and communications business that’s in dire need of proper business policy.
Businesses dealing with people and ideas always have internal politics. In Sri Lanka it’s who kisses the bosses ass best. In turn the ass kisser gains power over their fellows and takes out the anger of ass kissing on them, only to be usurped by another after a while. For the bosses, it has come to a situation where it’s who kisses the clients ass best. NB is a fine example.
F’off is an easy statement to make, but not if you are running a five hundred million rupee business with over one hundred employees.
“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
Wilhelm Stekel.


Anonymous said...

:-) Couldn't have said it better. This NB is a Jackass like Gehan says. I know him personally from his school days at STC Mount where he fought with the swimming coach and finally the swimming coach had to go home. Thanks to his family that influenced. But I agree, the man is a total ASS.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

I didn't mean this to be a rant about the personality traits of NB by any means, more that something he wrote made me think about the levels we all go to in order to keep clients / fans / whoever happy.

At times NB writes some things that I find thought provoking, but I think his style can be hard to feel comfortable with.

David Blacker said...

I think, in the end, the only thing that'll make an agency (or any company) fire a client, is if that client's demands become detrimental to the agency, be it short- or long-term. It might seem like a short-term loss of billing to fire that client, but it might mean a long term loss if the client's demands require the agency to do something unprofessional, illegal, unethical, or just downright dumb. And I think that's the only reason agencies fire clients -- not because they think it's "right".

Within that, can be another reason -- that the agency sees a responsibility bigger than that of satisfying the client. Often, clients represent brands and, particularly in the case of multinationals, the brand is bigger than the client. In many of these cases, the agency sees itself as the custodian of the brand and everything it stands for, rather than the client, who may not be as familiar with the brand. I know several instances of agencies firing a client for not having the brand's best interests in mind. The agencies didn't want to be associated with the failure of the brands in question, something that would have had a bad effect on their reputations.

NB's comments often reflect the naivete that comes out of seeing advertising from the outside. Plus having some very strange ad agency friends :)

Anonymous said...

Okay I've got something to say here. Firstly I agree with Gehan's Jackass thing coz this NB is real Jackass. Can be held responsible for most of Ranil's campaign failures. This bugger went around campaigning for him and even got on stage many times. I think the dude still is behind the scenes and will return only when Ranil returns to power. You know this is not going to happen.Therefore one need not take what this dude says so seriously. Besides the dude can afford to say what he says. Not many of us come from Rosmead Place backgrounds. Do we? This bugger does. This nut can say things like that coz he does not know the ground reality, just like his Ranil does not know the reality.He should feel it first, then he won't talk nonsense.