Wanton Wanderlust and Promiscuity
Relationships are based on trust. The good ones are balanced with a healthy push and pull and an assumed give and take. There’s beauty and harmony to even the most basic relationships. It’s true in love. It’s true in friendship. And it’s true in business.
As agencies, we fall in love with our clients. For many of us, love is necessary to create the work we do. We must embody the client’s hopes and dreams, internalize their brand and make it our own. If we’re authentic in this, love and admiration develop.
We get enamored with the challenges and the thrill of helping a client reach new heights. We form deep relationships. We care. Before we know it, we’re knee deep and feel we’re a part of their team, like we’re in this together—forever. But this isn’t a love between equals.
In advertising and marketing, clients don’t have to be loyal and they don’t have to be rational. They can push boundaries. They can pay late. They don’t have to respect the balance of our relationship.
They have a wanton wanderlust and promiscuity built into their very existence. Clients always want to see what else is out there. And they have that freedom.
It makes sense because these are the rules of the game. At times, we get so worked up with our expectations we forget.
In the agency/client game, the rules favor the client.
Thriving in agency life takes grit. It takes intestinal fortitude and a strong sense of self. But to do our job well, we must be sensitive. We need to see the best in people. We need to see potential. We need to see the best of all futures. We can’t rely on clients to nurture the artist inside us.
Yet we must do this knowing that clients aren’t required to be loyal. We’re all one new hire, blow of the wind, wrong statement, or change in process away from being fired.
I don’t usually quote song lyrics, but I’m going to do it a lot in this post. When it comes to the fickle client, we can take a lesson from Billy Joel:
She can lead you to love, she can take you or leave you
She can ask for the truth but she'll never believe you
And she'll take what you give her as long as it's free
Yeah she steals like a thief but she's always a woman to me
Billy Joel knew the rules of this game. Even though it wasn’t fair he still saw the beauty of this woman.
To maintain our self-esteem and sanity in agency life, we have to maintain our sense of self despite the game. We must see the beauty in our work, and the beauty in clients—current and past. We must love the challenge. Feel the thrill. Live the accomplishments.
We must go through creative hell for our clients, but we cannot let their praise dictate whether the trek was worthwhile. We find happiness when we love the work and relish in the journey, instead of the admiration of a client. If we allow our happiness to ebb and flow with the praise of a client, we are doomed to burn out. And quickly.
Our shelf life is limited. No matter how long and hard we work. No matter how successful the campaigns, no matter how much they love us, our relationship with clients is always fleeting.
Maybe we should channel the Grateful Dead:
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted with words half spoken and thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do,
To do for you and to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain and love will see you through.
We have to appreciate the beauty of the journey. Short or long. The beauty is what we did together. It will end. It may be 10 years. It may be six months. But it’s what counts. The journey is defined not by its length, but by its quality. Did we make the client better? If we did and the journey was good, what more could we ask?
All that said, we’re human. We have feelings.
In that vein, to hell with the clients who don’t have the decency or intellect to value their agencies. They don’t know what they had. Maybe Alanis Morrisette had it right:
And I'm here, to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It's not fair, to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know
We’re going to blast Alanis through the car stereo, and we’re going to sing along, and we’re going to get through this together.
The reality is we should feel all of these emotions. We’re in a game that challenges our humanity. Yet, our humanity is what fuels the work we do.
It’s up to us to not let the game or any client define our happiness. We know the game. We know the rules. It still hurts. But a good marketer will stay strong. A good marketer will realize the wanton wanderlust and promiscuity is more about the game’s moral failings than our abilities. We accept the challenge.