Looking back at my many years in marketing communications and some lessons learned

Early in my marketing communications career, after only a few years in business, sometime in the early 1980s, I saw an ad in a magazine and decided to call on a prospective client. At that time, I was calling on prospective clients, who appeared to do work in-house. The thinking behind this being, we (well at that time I) wouldn’t be able to do a good a job as the bigger agencies. Anyway, making the long story short, it appears the company in question already had an agency. What? The ad I saw was pretty ordinary. We could definitely do heaps better than that.

So, the moral of the story is don’t sell yourself short. So, from then on I approached any company whom I thought could use our services.

I also I learned several lessons when I gained an account of an existing client/agency arrangement that wasn’t working for the client. The client was a European pump manufacturer. Again, I approached the company who already had an agency. But, they commented that they weren’t getting the service they wanted. They told me what their budget, was which I thought was pretty good for what they wanted to achieve.

This figure, according to my contact at the company, was not big enough for their current ad agency. Anyway, we ended up getting the account and held it for some 10-11 years. Funny enough, when their old agency was told that they were no longer required, an agency executive asking if we could work together on the account. I wasn’t sure how that would work. Anyway, lesson learned at the expense of the previous agency. A client expects service and should get it. No matter the budget. If one would find this too small for an agency’s liking, don’t pitch for it. Or, tell them the truth. You never know as I’ve heard about clients who increased their budget to their agency’s suggested amount.

This has never been my experience as I design my advertising and marketing communications program around the budget given by the client. As I used to say to potential clients, a $10,000 program will be different to a $100,000 one. So, I needed to know the budget to work out plans to suit.

The other lesson learned from the client mentioned above was that brand name products or luxury marques is just ostentation. These may impress friends (including your boy or girlfriend)  but this doesn’t always work to impress a client or prospective client. When we pitched for the pump manufacturer account, I remember driving there in my little Corolla. And, again my contact said that another agency that pitched for their account arrived at the client’s offices driving a Porsche. Apparently, the managing director told the marketing manager not to hire this guy, as they must be making too much money by overcharging their clients, pointing to the Porsche.

Hmm, so my old Corolla was an asset in a way I never considered previously.

Still another lesson, is your firm’s size doesn’t always matter. I put the word “always” because I’ve lost pitches where the client wanted the bells and whistles of a big agency. Mind you, that client was also willing to pay for the extra ostentation of a fancy office and the many lovely people working there. And, others who were after an agency of a certain size.

Well, we were lean and mean then. And, our offices in Sydney’s west, were pretty basic. Our spray booth which was used for airbrush work was made up of a large old corrugated box. I know, pretty rough, right? But, we did pretty good work with airbrush art. We had our own repro camera and processor, as well as an electronic typesetter for doing bromides. (We only sent out for film work and printing. Everything else was done in-house).

Well, a medium-sized company with several branches around Australia was another client. I was doing some work for them already when and I was dealing with the CEO.  After hours one day when the CEO was out, the CFO took me aside and asked me about the size of my company, who my clients were and so on. After noting the size, or rather a lack of it for our firm, I mentioned that he may have heard of some of our clients. And, rath1200 er haughtily, he asked, “really who?”. I answered, “let me mention two: Westinghouse Electric Australasia and Rolls Royce Paklog”. I think that he had heard of them as his demeanor changed and there was a look of surprise on his face.

Moral of the story, you shouldn’t be ashamed about the size of your firm. Of more concern is the work done for your clients. And, if larger company’s value your work, they would happily work with you. Unfortunately, for the above two clients, they were both sold off. Again, maybe another lesson, “that’s life.”

Until my next post.

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