A few years ago, I was invited by CTAM to speak on a panel at Summit. I received the formal invite, which included the name of the session “Who Wins? Balancing Agency and Client Perspectives”. Interesting! This would be something I could get my arms around.
I checked out the other speakers invited to the panel. Stephanie Gibbons, SVP Showtime. Nina Gramaglia, Group Account Director DDB Worldwide. Spence Kramer, VP ESPN. And yours truly, rounding out the group.
I was working in our Los Angeles office at the time, so as the only participant on the west coast, I was greeted with a 6AM conference call each morning (espresso in hand) with a warm and sympathetic “Denny, are you awake yet?” sort of welcome.
After a few meetings, we realized the only way to create a substantive session was to take a gritty hard look at how our businesses operated with, for, and against each other. Thankfully, my colleagues were up to task. It was clear from the get go that Stephanie and Spence would represent the client side of the perspective. Nina, as Group AD from DDB, who was initially meant to represent the agency-side, ended up providing more substance as a client. So that left me to provide the lone agency voice in the discussion.
The summary of the session was quickly finalized: “The agency/client relationship can be sensitive and volatile or as comfortable as an old shoe. How does it look when it’s working? How do you know when it’s not, and who suffers…the client, the agency, or the work? Experts on both sides who’ve been through their share of love and heartbreak reveal the secrets to effective, break-through creative, and the pitfalls that could have you singing “Can we still be friends?”.
Love and heartbreak? Who suffers? Can we still be friends? You would’ve thought we were combatants on different sides of a deeply divided warfront. How were we getting business done on a day-to-day basis if our perspectives were so disjointed? After weeks of preparation, discussion, and bonding, the standing room only session was a rousing success.
The 2009 economic downturn has illustrated that there’s really only room for a single, collective perspective. Agencies are forced to look at their business models, offering creative and fiscal solutions for each and every commissioned assignment. Broadcasters & marketers aren’t afforded the luxury of limitless budgets and deeply silo’ed brand units.
Fast forward to today, I’m now based in both LA and the UK, working with some of the most talented creative agencies and innovative broadcasters in the world. Stephanie is doing her magic as EVP Marketing at FX. Nina runs her own successful consultancy. And Spence is now at Wieden + Kennedy as Global Account Director of their Nike business.
Our session in Boston all those years ago was a quiet reminder that not only can friendships survive in our industry, but that they remain the backbone of future business. A single, synergized perspective, one of deep creative and long term business commitment to the focused brand vision. Nothing less.
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