Five years in
the making...
In reflection...
13 January 2017
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"So... how do I make great work?" This was the first question I asked when I started out in the marketing industry. It's a question which seems easy to answer when your dreams of becoming a young Don Draper/Roger Sterling are about to come true. Once a little wiser, you realise that Mad Men is about as relevant to the real world of advertising as Baywatch is to the local lifeguard on Ballito main beach... "Cool story, Bro."

Five years on, I think back on all the work accepted and shot down, the great times, the not so great times, my own good and bad behaviour. I think back to the question I originally posed and ask myself whether I can now answer what I tasked others to answer at the start of my career. What follows is not meant to be an insightful piece designed to change a status quo, it's really more of a "WTF" about my journey over the past five years.

You soon realise when you start as a Client Service person in the creative industry that you are not the head of the arrow striking the target, piercing through canvas and embedding itself in the board - that role belongs to the Art Directors, Designers and Copywriters. Nor are you the bow, aiming the arrow in the right direction and experiencing the satisfying punch of impact - those are the Strategists. Which leaves a new Client Service person wondering where they fit into the 'machine'.

Having the passionate desire to make great work is a marvellous high five to yourself, but knowing where you fit in the machine is even better. I recently read "The Art of Client Service" by Robert Solomon. The author, a Client Service man himself, serves up 51 chapters of tips that he believes all marketing professionals should know. I will enlarge on the four chapters that I found most useful.

Achieving the next level
Client Service is a career that comes with its fair share of minefields - from people issues to technological and timing issues. We need to cultivate the ability to navigate these while maintaining a mindset that allows us to work and grow as best as possible.I have discovered that having an absent ego and a willingness to admit what you do not know are key. I have also learned to be open to the advice of others and to separate criticism from feedback. I have been fortunate enough to work directly with industry "Godfathers" and up and coming creative disruptors, who dispensed insight and sound advice. As Baz Luhrmann says, "Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth".

Respect what it takes to do great creative
Improve not approve. This is a critical learning curve for a new Client Service person. As much as a Client Service person is a representative of the client at the agency, they are by no means on the other team. Adding to the value of the process while maintaining a relationship with the creative team and client is the name of the game. Understand what it takes to come up with creative ideas and share them publicly... it means exposing a significant part of yourself. Understand that nerves are sensitive and hairs are raised. I have discovered that a Client Service person needs to be able to agree, disagree and then still believe in the idea and sell it. Even if it is not their first choice or personally recommended selection. This allows the creative team to thrive and the work to take shape in a positive environment. Your creative team is like an orchid - nurture it, support it, give it the right amount of praise and it will bloom. Without this nourishment, the results will not be as spectacular as they could have been. Respect the bloom.

Never forget it is business
The marketing world is full of opportunities to have a drink... or two... or ten. The nature of the marketing industry means that there are many occasions to entertain clients at dinners or lunches and attend extravagant agency award and year end parties. Knowing your personal limits is a major learning curve. Most people in this industry can tell a story or two of themselves or a colleague who overshot the mark once or twice. There's the one about the client and agency relationship that was very, very 'close'... rivalling the hijinks shown on ETV around midnight on a Saturday. Or the agency party that ended with everyone getting down to just their jocks. Never get down to just your jocks. No matter what the event is, or who is attending. Know that this is business and not personal. Live without regrets.

Ask, "What do my colleagues need to create great marketing? Then deliver it"
Providing a detailed briefing document and creating the ideal timing plan with all the needed lead times to facilitate great creative work all score A+ when it comes to the successful completion of a job. However, there is more to it than just documents. As mentioned earlier if I had not posed the question when I started my journey, I would not have received the answer.... Which is, "be a nice person". Providing the perfect environment for creative work to blossom is half the battle won, but if you are not willing to understand or support the process, it's unlikely your result will be great. If your team is staying over the weekend to finish off a presentation for Monday, then be present to assist. Step up and help with the printing proofing and providing food if needed. If there is an urgent deadline that needs to be met and you can assist by personally taking the package/boards...grab your keys. Solomon says that neither the clarity of a brief nor the timing plan is as appreciated by your creative generators as the late night, lukewarm Szechuan noodles. The support needed by your team is not just in your documented output, it's also in the mental encouragement that a cup of coffee or noodles can provide. Be the nice guy.

In summary, it has been an interesting journey thus far. If I am ever asked whether my life is anything like Mad Men, I can answer honestly that it is not. But it sure keeps me on my toes, and every now and then I pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. Learning and understanding the creative process takes time, and the four points I chose from Solomon's book have helped me to understand that process.

By Christopher Schilperoort
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