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July 2, 2007
How to Play Client Golf

Competition in advertising is greater than it has ever been. With more and more people competing for fewer and fewer jobs, it is increasingly important that everybody on your creative team know how to play Client Golf.

The secret to Client Golf is to let the client win. I’ve been asked, “Hey Ben, what if the client is just awful at golf?” Great question. Thank you for asking. The secret to Client Golf is finding a way to let the client win.

Did you see what I did there? I was asked an ignoramus question: “…what if the client is just awful…” Of course the client sucks: that’s why they’re the client. If they could think like you do they wouldn’t need your services. They pay you because you will think up stuff that would never dawn on them in 100 years. Your job is to find a way to make them feel like a winner.

Am I being too gruff? I’ve been working in communications strategy for 14 years. Bear with me while I plaster on a fake smile and plow through this crap one more time.

Oh. You thought it was magic every time? Yeah, of course it is. Now let’s discuss the Easter Bunny laying chocolate eggs. You see where I’m getting? There are times when you have to keep your secret knowledge to yourself… like that the client’s idea is so stupid you have to conceal your laughter.

Working in advertising is more competitive than it has ever been. My father challenged me to prove this point. Here goes... I came up with two main points:

  1. There are fewer medium-size companies hiring ad agencies
  2. More and more people call themselves creatives


First, let's see if I can prove that consolidation has squeezed out the medium-size companies hiring ad agencies. In 1970, there were 4,600 banks that had 10+ branches. In 2000, there are reportedly 860 banks with 10+ branches—3,740 fewer. What does this mean? 3,740 fewer banks requesting local print ads or needing new products named and created. It means a lot less work to be passed around.

Doesn't that mean the creative world is more creative? There are fewer gigs. On top of all that, more and more people are calling themselves designers simply because they have some pro tools on their laptop.

Secondly, your job is more competitive because poseurs are encroaching on your gig. How many times have we seen somebody at Starbucks with a portfolio open and it reeks? I say in my head that they couldn't design a high school yearbook and at that moment, another patron offers to hire the flop to design a business card.

That's the deal. Most tiny business owners want the type of design they had for their high school yearbook.

Thank goodness Talent Zoo has industry professionals working as matchmakers between clients and freelancers.

I think like a marketer and I'm proud...
I used to feel alone in a crowd.
Now if you look around these days...
There seems to be an "I'm a marketer" craze!

I'm a marketer, he's a marketer, she's a marketer...
We're all marketers.
Wouldn't you like to be a marketer, too!

I'm not a copywriter. I'm a strategist. I should have hired a copywriter to entertain you here. What I do know is that branding doesn't need to be as complicated as it is often made out to be. Clients have all sorts of sacred cows we must learn to respect and not interrupt their brand worshiping rituals.

In my not-so-humble opinion…
When given an assignment, and a brand essence, at the end of the assignment we should ask if the work reinforces the brand essence. It is that simple. However, we’re not playing with our own money. If you work gig-to-gig like me, Client Golf makes the whole assignment easier to complete. I’m no longer so concerned about today’s assignment. Instead I’m thinking two gigs ahead.

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Ben Mack is a sales and marketing expert and author. Winner of AMA’s Edison award and EFFIE, Mack is a career ad-man. He has worked on a number of high-profile ad campaigns like Cingular, Mitsubishi and Publix with such ad agencies as Deutsch, J. Walter Thompson, WONGDOODY, BBDO, and WestWayne.

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