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February 23, 2011
Gone Corporate: The Co-Worker as Client
After almost two decades of ad agency life, I’ve worked for almost every type of client. (I’m not egotistical enough to think “I’ve done it all.” Just 97% of it.)

But when you’re on the “agency side,” there are pretty much three main types of clients:

THE “FAVORITE” CLIENT comes to you for your expertise, trusts your judgment, and respects your creativity. Estimated U.S. population: 14.

THE “USUAL” CLIENT is okay with mediocrity, doesn’t really trust you, and probably thinks they can do better than the hackery you churn out without a fat budget. Estimated U.S. population: 3.2 million.

THE “WELL, THEY PAY THEIR BILLS” CLIENT hates advertising, advertising professionals, and anything that has to do with advertising. This means you. Estimated U.S. population: Hurts to think about it.

So yeah, it’s pretty grim. And probably a bit unfair. But life is unfair. Onward.

But what if your clients...

...are your co-workers?
...share your office?
...scarf down lunch in your breakroom?
...use your bathrooms?

On the corporate side, your clients are other marketing people, the HR department, maybe even the IT squad. They work for the same company as you, and the same CFO signs both their checks and yours. And they have a diverse array of skill sets and work experiences that may or may not have anything to do with developing effective communications.

So there you are. Sitting in endless meetings with these people—who may be nice, friendly, puppy-loving folks—but they don’t know squat about what good marketing really is.

They do know that it’s important to look busy. Schedule meetings. Drop some buzzwords into the dialogue. “Leveraging synergy to build a robust platform.”

So although they will proudly say they “worked on that project,” they mostly bring zero to the table (including creative briefs or any kind of helpful direction), make you re-do projects over and over, and pretty much ensure that whatever work you finally turn out is mediocre dreck that is in no way ending up as part of your portfolio.

So how do you deal?

Here’s what I do. I draw on my experience and try to educate them—but so subtly, they don’t even know they’re learning. I start a lot of sentences with “We can totally do it that way, but what I’d really recommend is...” And I even go that extra mile to produce what they want—but also SHOW them how I’d do it.

The smarter ones have started to “get it” and trust my judgment. When you make them feel like they’re a part of the process, the creative-client relationship gets stronger. And that’s helpful to know whether you’re working for an agency or on the client side...but especially if you sit in the bathroom stall next to them every day after lunch.

Of course, if they’re not so smart, there’s always the old “switch the salt and sugar in the break room” trick.

NEXT TIME: A radio spot? On the client side?

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After a year of creative incarceration in Corporate World, your beloved Corporate Hack finally distracted the guards, outran the bloodhounds and scaled the wall to make his escape. Now that he’s back where he belongs in Ad World, he’s re-branded himself as The Inside Man...but he’s still having Ad-Verse Reactions. 
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