5 lessons 21st century agencies can learn from David Ogilvy

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David Ogilvy

Two things happened in the ad industry in the last few months that would have seen advertising legend David Ogilvy spinning in his grave.

First, an ad agency was stripped of its honours and shamed for entering fake work into an awards show. Second, after an eight-year-long relationship, a certain agency was informed — via email — of the client’s intention to put the business out to pitch.

David Ogilvy was born in 1911. At the time, the advertising souls of this era were still floating around in a cosmic bubble, contemplating making a grand entrance a couple of decades later. So of what importance then, is the opinion of this old-world gentleman?

I believe that in a time when our industry is consumed with the challenges and wonders of the digital age, doing good for humanity and fulfilling our rockstar dreams, we should also be consumed with the fact that while nobody was looking, respect, trust and good old common sense started walking out the door.

As someone from the agency side, I have always feared that the very nature of the agency-client relationship is flawed – a relationship that has set us on unequal footing and built master-slave mentalities and battered-wife syndromes. While no relationship is a one-way street, I worry that ours is more strained than it has ever been. Now would be a good time to summon the spirit of the Father of Advertising. Here are five things Ogilvy said, which I would like to share with all clients:

1. “Be candid, and encourage candor”
David Ogilvy would want us to stop hiding behind debriefs and emails and start having more honest conversations. Tell us what works for you, what doesn’t and before your eyes start roaming, talk to us and give us the chance to show you that we actually care about your business as much as you do. If it still doesn’t work out, don’t break up with us over email.

2. “Why keep a dog and bark yourself?”
Ogilvy recommended that clients should not compete with their agencies in the creative area. Trust that most of us went to ad school. Trust us to do creativity, to write copy and to design. No one wants their copy dictated to them. We should ban tracked changes on Word documents and scribbling on layouts. Give us your opinion, criticise and interrogate the work but allow us to do what we love doing.

3. “Don’t haggle with your agency”
Sometimes ad agencies behave like a kid who has a hundred bucks and finds himself in front of a slot machine. But sometimes we feel like the kid who has to score goals in Bata Toughees. Maybe it’s time to loosen the iron-grip on the purses. Spend the right money at the right time with the right people and you will see the results.

4. “Clients get the advertising they deserve”
A great idea is chosen by you. When you are brave you get brave work. No doubt, every great idea travels a scary journey accompanied by a manic, feverish sweat. We should not be afraid of this fever because it subsides once the work survives intact. If you set your standards high, you allow us to improve your bottom line and to do great work for you.

5. “Loosen their tongues”
I think that Ogilvy meant that we should drink tequila. We should also have lunch some time. Maybe play a round of golf too. We compress time so drastically these days that we forget that relationships are built alongside the work, the briefs and the meetings. Get to know the people that work on your business and let us get to know you so that we might each catch a glimpse of the passion and commitment we share.

I hope that in 2014 we will have a more evolved approach to the agency-client relationship. On both sides, I hope that we can behave with more integrity, build trust again and pat each other on the backs without the simultaneous urge to stab each other. I hope that we can find new meaning in our roles.

If the face of advertising has changed and now resembles a bearded, plaid-wearing guy with an enormous heart, doesn’t it make sense that we both rock up to work as partners, rather than as ‘Agency’ and ‘Client’? Let us make 2014 the year that all others are compared to and let us make David Ogilvy proud.

Image: Nasos Efstathiadis Photography (via Flickr)

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