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Skin In The Game

August 4th, 2016

Nothing says “I believe in this idea” more than taking a personal stake in its success. That’s how we roll.

A few weeks ago, we were having one of the many meet-and-greets that have become part of our daily schedule since we opened our doors. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, and on this occasion we were meeting with the marketing director of the Canadian arm of an international car manufacturer. There was a pregnant pause in the air, the kind that inevitably follows when a client asks the question, “So, what do you guys think of our new ad campaign?” After a few moments of silence (we try to drag it out for maximum effect), I responded. “Let me ask you this, “ I queried. “Do you think that this is the solution your agency would have executed if their compensation was solely based on the results it achieved?” I assure you that the pause that followed was definitely not for effect.

There was a lot of humming and hawing in the moments that followed, but after we told him that we would because, in fact, we believe we should, and that’s the way we prefer to operate, the conversation began in earnest. Why? Because it’s all well and good to talk about partnership, but until you have skin the game, it’s just talk. And I’m not talking about bonuses for performance, or an extra ten percent for good measure. Our clients’ very businesses and the livelihoods of all of their employees are tied to our ability to move their product, so why shouldn’t ours be as well – not only as an agency but also as individual employees.

There is an interesting phenomenon that exists in the current financial model practiced by advertising agencies. We deliver the work, pick up the cheque, and then we go home. Sure we want our clients to do well, but other than the possibility of getting fired (which no one really thinks is real until the very moment it happens), there are no actual consequences attached to the success or failure of the work we produce. Which is why it’s a stretch to call it a partnership that we enjoy with clients; why we rarely, as an industry, get invited to top-table; and why we have relegated ourselves to the position of “painters and decorators.”

Think, if you will, about a relationship where we can say, and mean, that we will bring the full creative horsepower of that think-tank we call an agency to bear on the clients’ problems, and solve those problems by any means necessary, because we know, and the clients know, that we won’t get paid unless we earn it. That’s the kind of position that says I am involved in your business, and I see you as more than a source of revenue. It’s a position that is far less disposable than the current position we occupy as an industry. It’s a position that allows, if not demands us to bring the best talent to bear to develop truly creative solutions to problems, and not to worry if those solutions fit into our tidy little billing schemes.

Now let’s get back to that Sunday afternoon meeting. Three hours in, we had ideas on the table that involved product redesign, retail estate, PR, alternate distribution channels, and the potential of producing a television property. All of which are part of our arena of operations, because that arena has now been expanded to include anything to get the job done well and successfully. That is a partnership that affords us the trust to experiment, the latitude to adapt, and the right to get as rich as we can without resentment because it has been made clear from the beginning that our modicum of success can only have been achieved as a part of the client’s larger success.

Was it enough to win the business? I can’t tell you for sure yet. But we are meeting with the president next week.

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