Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Adventures In Advertising: Getting Good Work Approved Or The Best Business Pun I Ever Heard

Every ad agency faces the same client problem:  getting good work approved by the various client layers without the work being watered down by each successive layer of approval.  By the time it gets to the most senior person, the work often does not even slightly resemble what was originally created. 

The best clients sometimes ask the agency to bring the original and subsequent “boards” to the final presentation. (Boards here are intended to be generic – could be TV, radio, magazines, out-of-home, even web design and UX.)  These clients are rare.  During my many years as an account person, I only had one client do this.  The final board was always presented first, the first board was presented last with an explanation of the changes that were made by his brand and advertising people.  The result is that he often vented his wrath at the changes.  As a result, changes were kept to a minimum by the fear of his anger.  There had to be a good reason for the changes.

These clients are few and far between.  I believe that this why there is so much bad work; by the time the work gets to the final approval level it has often become the “Emperor’s New Clothes”.  I always think of the old adage that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

That is a long explanation to get to a short and funny story.

Two people, cousins and partners, owned a company equally; they were the children of the original founders of the company. The company was Faygo Beverages, a Detroit based soft drink company (subsequently sold, many years after this story).  Mort and Phil Feigenson were legendary tyrants. They sat together in the same office.  They approved everything that happened in their company.  But they especially loved the advertising.  One of them had really great taste, one not so good.  The agency always presented directly to them along with their ad manager, who didn’t have much to say because the owners always had the last and, mostly, only word. The company was known for having good, sometimes great advertising.  But occasionally they erred.

I was newly on the account and this was my first presentation to them.  I was presenting fairly mundane but nice coupon ads.  One of the owners asked if the headline on one ad could be put with the copy of the other.  Without thinking much, I responded simply, “No”.  I don’t think anyone ever told them no before.  The room became deathly silent.  They stared at me and I stared back. You could cut the silence in the room.  The quiet lasted, probably, twenty seconds.  Then, the copy group head, who was sitting behind me, said, and this is an exact quote -  “A Paul has come over the room.”

It broke the silence and was was the greatest business pun I ever heard. 

Everyone, including the cousins laughed.  They approved the ads as presented and insisted that no presentation ever be made again without me.  They loved the fact that I stood up to them.  For the next several years, they really listened to me.  We were able to sell them really good work.


  1. Apropos to this column about creative, just thought I’d share this commentary that I posted today at Ad Age on the subject. Because advertising, however messy, is a very deliberative process, not a “crapshoot” on-the-fly ,,, “I never want to see an agency’s Creative Department “blown up”, as author Ed Chambliss suggests, because it is the “gold mine” of every agency. Yes, there are layers and differing opinions within the “Creative family”, but that’s good. Peer review among creative peers (hopefully). And then, after they have digested and reflected the upfront Brand research and guidance provided to them earlier by agency “outsiders”, their final work product is held to higher scrutiny by ALL concerned. And that’s not only good … it’s absolutely necessary! Because when millions of advertiser dollars are at stake, it’s good to have an internal agency “murder board” before presenting to the client. That is … Better to deal with internal questions or objections before hearing the client say, “NO.” Whereupon, you’re back to the drawing board, so to speak, and losing money by the hour. Or, as they say in the military, paying for the same real estate twice.” http://adage.com/article/agency-viewpoint/devil-department/311091/


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