Can’t Get No Respect

by Bill Purdin

Rodney Dangerfield famously said he “can’t get no respect.” No matter how hard he tried, no matter how much he deserved it… no respect. He said it all the time. He built a career saying it. But when an advertising agency says it,  it’s a different kind of joke.

An agency out in Chicago we know had a client (you may recognize this sort of fellow) who felt that his off-the-cuff “feelings” were all he needed to market the product and conduct things in a suitable “advertising” kind of way. The only problem was that the agency had no way of (1) judging the starting point, and (2) estimating the finish. Every time they presented a project to the client, his personal feelings guided the way. My friend at the agency told me, “I get no respect. His self-referential perspective kills every effort we make. He is turning me into Rodney Dangerfield, and it’s no laughing matter.”

This went on for a while and then, predictably, the client’s “feelings” led him to fire the ad agency and hire a new one, making the mistake of compounding errors. Even if the client has a profitable business and all is well on the P & L, that’s not the point, is it? An advertising agency’s duty is to maximize his client’s resources, not just go along for the ride. The next advertising agency called the first one to check in, a professional courtesy, and confided that, “He’s doing the same thing to us.”

Some of our best clients are extremely profitable and highly successful businesses. And when I say “best,” I mean most challenging, most marketing-oriented, and most demanding. But who minds challenges, profits, and demands when the relationship is right? And when information is communicated rather than just feelings like, “It does nothing for me,” advertising goes into high gear.

Our friend in Chicago lost a promising client. But the client also lost his two years’ investment in the agency/client relationship. More than a loss of respect, it was a lost opportunity.

Market research is available everywhere these days, and the routines and applications are very standardized and understandable. Reputable research firms abound. It’s really so easy, when budgeting to put aside the $10,000 to $20,000 necessary for a quality marketing survey. But that’s only one step.

The problem, of course, with surveys, and with studies, is that you’re going to have to follow the results. And, you may not like the results. But working as a team, in a true relationship, agency and client may find the bad news even more helpful in the long run than easy wins and confirmed expectations. So, we insist on research firms that have track records of verifiable independence.

One of our clients discovered that through acquisitions her company’s growth had continued, but her market share had been declining for nearly fifteen years. Plus, she discovered that basically things like the”full-service” concept which had been the main component of her message were now albatrosses hung around her neck by competitors. She discovered that wildcats who were “stealing” her business and her customers were actually smarter in their marketing strategy than she was. They were the future; she was rapidly becoming the past. We had been telling her that she needed to try new things, that she needed a mix, new creativity, and creative vitality, new ideas, new staffing, new locations, but she kept looking at simple quantitative growth in volume from the previous year. We told her she was driving her business looking through the rear view mirror. We told her, “If you don’t believe us, do a survey of your customers.” We also said if we were wrong, we’d help her find a new agency. But we were right.

That was five years ago. She’s still with us, her market share is growing, customer retention is nearing 70%, and, she bought out one of those wildcats.

Now that’s respect.

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