The Perfect Client

by Bill Purdin

Some would say that that is an oxymoron. Not for us. We’ve had many of them, and we are hoping for more. Time will tell.

We have also had some of the other type of client, too.

Building a great client relationship takes time and practice and experience. Clients come in all sizes and in all industries. Budget size at the start of the relationship predicts nothing. Chemistry predicts nothing. Bad clients are adept at conviviality almost without fail. One thing is predictive however: does the new client have the capacity to listen and to learn, or are they dismissive of others and arrogant, always putting themselves and their opinions first? One meeting should do it. I have left the polished mahogany boardroom of a multi-billion dollar bank relieved to depart without the new business. I have left the garage-office of a one person shop so excited about the prospects of working with that individual that I was back on the phone even as I was driving home.

The two most important criteria are: courage and confidence. In the former category I am speaking of moral courage and not the animal variety. And in the latter category I am speaking of competence, really.

Competence and Confidence

In a study of competence and confidence in The New York Times published a few years ago it was noted that in all of the case studies, and commensurate statistical compilations, competence and confidence had an inverse relationship. When the “confidence” level was exhibited at its highest level, competence was at its lowest level. And, as you would expect, when competence was exhibited at its highest levels, confidence, expressed and proclaimed, was at it lowest, in fact it was often denied entirely. Think about that for a minute. The more you actually know about a topic the more you are  inclined to deny any level of real competence, even though your performance is at the highest levels. Why is that? The more you actually know about a subject, the more you know how much there is to know. As you competence rises, your confidence in your own omniscience, gracefully and respectfully declines.

To be conscience that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.
— Benjamin Disraeli

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.
— Benjamin Franklin

Stupidity is without anxiety.– Johann von Goethe

A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.
— Benjamin Franklin

Working with truly competent people is really fun. They always recognize talent when they see it. They always love honesty and truth. They are tireless in discovery. They are loyal in every way. And their prospects for success are unlimited, so finding them at the beginning, middle, or at the end of their careers does not matter in the least. Finding them is all that matters.

Sad to say, truly competent people are as rare as true leaders. By the way, competent people are nature leaders, too, but you have to talk them into it.



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In our current industrial modality of making money, the art of leadership may have become a forgotten concept, lost in the dust of lucre.

When all you need to make money is a greed beyond all others, leadership becomes just aggression. This hard-charging-almost-mindlessly rapacious capitalism without regard to others becomes the chariot on fire; the measure of senseless success. Slash and burn avarice in America is leaving a sad trail of social and cultural disasters, but who will accept responsibility? Accepting responsibility? Another bygone concept. Here are some more concepts of the forgotten past of great leadership. Where have all the flowers gone?

  • Never blame a subordinate for something that went wrong on your watch.
  • Always put the well being of others above your own.
  • Give credit where credit is due. Success is, after all, always a team effort.
  • Take a genuine personal interest in the welfare of people around you, especially your employees.
  • Make decisions promptly.
  • Be a teacher and mentor. Always teach only the right thing to do. “Don’t do that” is not teaching.
  • Be fair to all, no favorites.
  • Expect people to do their best and allow for people to make mistakes. If your plans cannot withstand a mistake or two along the way, then it’s the plan that is the problem.
  • Leadership is not a commodity, it is an art, and it takes true talent and unselfishness to be a real leader.

Leaders build consensus with vision and, most importantly, by setting a good example. If your team is not really a team, it’s your fault. If you don’t see that, people won’t see you as a leader. People want and deserve respect. A true leader knows this. Insensitivity, aloofness and arrogance, untrustworthiness, uncontrolled ambition, inability to delegate and build teamwork, bad hiring, lack of a clear strategy, and constant self-referentiality are all hallmarks of bad leadership. They are the easy-to-spot signs of someone who has no business in a leadership role.

True leaders are exceptionally hard to find today. The hallmarks of bad leadership are everywhere. Credentials are just proclamations of paper worth in the place of true performance that needs no paper. Americans need to demand a higher form of leadership in our government, our companies, our organizations, and in our own lives. Leadership is a team enterprise and in great organizations it is found at all levels, from the maintenance team all the way to the corner office.

Leadership is an art and it needs people with creativity and vision to practice it. When we finally stop accepting the cheap imitations over the real thing, then things will get better.

The best definition leadership: “The highest destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule.” — Albert Einstein.


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What’s Wrong With My Website?

January 9, 2011

Things we hear all the time. “It looks weird.” [Client is using an out-of-date browser.]. “The colors are way off.” [Client is using an out-of-date screen.] “This site is so slow I’m yawning.” [Client’s computer is a really old one from home with out-of-date system software.] “The site is way too big, I have to […]

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Things seem to keep getting more and more complicated, but maybe not. Where once it was “early to bed, early to rise, advertise, advertise, advertise,” now the choices seem more complex. Target audiences, market share, segmentation, optimization, media mixing, CTR, preemptability, extramercial advantage, findability ratios, and keyword density are all important, but in another way […]

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In an advertising agency setting, the only real mistake is one that is actually published. Back and forths with the client have a sort of client/agency confidentiality protection, with amnesty. If it stays in the relationship, then no harm, no foul. If it goes out wrong, that’s another issue altogether. For example, we recently did […]

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It Does Nothing for Me…

December 25, 2010

It does nothing for me. These five words have destroyed more advertising careers than all the late nights, heart-pounding pressure, and slow payments combined. When, in fact, they should never have been spoken in the first place. Imagine the creative team working all weekend, intellectually digging for a concept worthy of their client’s assignment which […]

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October 28, 2010

Reviewing the agency/client relationship should be a routine event that occurs during everyday business-to-business contacts. To suddenly throw open the doors to all comers and put your advertising agency on notice that their hard work, creativity, and loyalty mean nothing can be a disastrous mistake with repercussions no one intended and certainly no one wanted. […]

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The Seven Rules of Marketing Communication

June 2, 2010

If there is anything we have learned in all these years of professional advertising it can be summed up in a few words: everything works. But having said that, it is also clear that some things work better than others. And, that the underpinnings of what we say — how we say it — remains […]

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Improving the client/agency relationship

April 15, 2010

Ways to constantly and consistently improve the client/agency relationship…

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How Some Companies Grow in Good Times and Still Grow In Bad Times.

April 5, 2010

When all is said and done, the secret is simple.

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