Is ditching uncreative clients really an option?

Talk of ditching clients who don't want to take creative risks may sound good, but is it feasible asks Steve Wrelton

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By  Steve Wrelton Published  May 28, 2006

|~|Howden,-Chris-200.jpg|~|Chris Howden, executive creative director at TBWA\RAAD|~|The new boss of advertising agency Lowe, Justin McCarthy, announced his arrival in Dubai by claiming that he is prepared to drop clients that are not willing to take risks. In an interview with Campaign last week, he said that he wants to make clients feel “uncomfortable” about the creative work produced by the agency and admitted that he is likely to become unpopular in a region that is, in his own words, lagging. Whether or not he proves himself to be true to his word remains to be seen — after all, it isn’t the first time that a newcomer has announced his arrival with gusto. But McCarthy’s statement does at least prompt the question: how far should agencies push clients in the quest for creative excellence? Chris Howden, executive creative director for TBWA\Raad, says it is a 64 million dollar question. “The fact is that you can only take this stand if you’re supremely confident in what you’re doing and if your work is extremely good,” says Howden. “I’ve heard many creative directors and heads of agencies say this, but the thing is that so often they do not last. “Aside from the client, you’ve also got to ask about whether you’re doing all you can to bring them on board and educate them about what you’re doing and why.” Nirmal Diwadkar, chief operating officer for Brandcom in Dubai, says that personal experience has taught him that sometimes it is necessary to walk away. “If you want to push the boundaries you’ve got to take a stand and be bold. You might want to keep them on for the sake of revenue, but I think there’s always going to be a sword hanging over your head,” he says. “You may just reach a point where you say ‘having tried everything we don’t see eye-to-eye and our vision doesn’t match yours — perhaps this is not a great relationship’. There’s nothing actually wrong with that. “Sometimes you have to take steps to call a relationship off because you’re better off building brands with people who share your vision,” he adds. Shaahid Khan, vice president of Bates PanGulf Advertising, says that while he would applaud any agency that parts company with a client on the grounds of creative differences, the simple fact is that most clients are averse to taking risks and so, for many agencies, it would be a case of losing virtually all of their business. “Personally I don’t think that it’s a very realistic statement to make,” says Khan. “I’ve been here for 10 years now and with the nature of advertising here I don’t think you can really afford to drop clients unless you’re pushed to the limit and you’re a really big player, one of the really big agencies, and it’s a client that you’re not going to make much from. “It’s a brave thing to say, but I’d like to see someone come out and drop a client with a media budget of five million dollars and say ‘they just wouldn’t go with our creative and so we’re dropping them’. “It’s a tough call to make. It would be wonderful, though. Hats off to that agency.” Howden, bringing the debate back into focus, raises the question of what lies at the heart of most successful ad campaigns: simplicity. To be creative, Howden says, doesn’t mean you have to shock. “The fact is that, with any client, you have to come up with great ideas. Those ideas, the most beautiful ones, are ones that are simple. “TBWA in Paris, for example, they’re producing some supreme work, but if you look at what they’re actually doing, yes it’s brave, yes it’s clever, but it’s also very, very simple. “You could put their work in front of any client anywhere in the world. It doesn’t have to be risqué and in your face.” Rival agencies will no doubt keep their eye on the new Lowe operation and watch with interest to see what the fall-out will be. They will be more than willing to take on those clients who fail to see eye-to-eye with McCarthy and his team. ||**||

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