Posted by: David Kiley on July 31, 2009
By Jon Bond
Bond is co-chairman and co-founder of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners
When I was in high school, we learned that one of the biggest debates in the 19th century was the debate over whether man is essentially good or evil.
I never remember who was on which side, but the two philosophies were authored by two radically different men, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.
Even though I rarely paid attention in high school, this concept has stuck with me.
You see it in pop culture all the time. Star Wars is based on it. The dark side is nothing more than the belief that man is evil, hence we should grab whatever we can and be done with it. It is cynism taken to the “nth” degree, and a self fulfilling prophecy because when you treat people like they are going to screw you, you incent them to do just that.
Hence the famous slogan: the beatings will continue until morale improves.
All of which brings me to the topic at hand, advertising. During the process of pitching new business, the lifeblood of our business, the prospective client inevitably asks, “Tell me Jon, what in your eyes makes a good client?” This is the kind of dangerously loaded question that sports stars are taught to dodge with cliches. You know, like, “I’m just happy to be here, and that the good Lord has blessed me.” In our world, the appropriate answer is to mutter something about “partnerships” and “give and take,” and all this kind of syrupy hoopla that shouldn’t get you in trouble.
The truth is that if you are a good person, you are a good client.
Who makes good clients? Your parents, if you are lucky. If you are a lying son of a gun, you will be a bad client. If you are an honest, good person with reasonable self esteem and your parents didn’t beat you too much, you will be a good client.
All of which brings me back to Hobbes and Locke. Today, clients are struggling with how to pay their agencies. They want to pay based on results, and this is a very good thing. A good, confident agency accepts this premise.
Two dramatically different models are emerging, each championed by a mega-huge global client I won’t name. Not just any mega huge clients either, but by arguably the two most important and influential clients in advertising history.
Both clients are about paying for results, yet they are in every other way diametrically oppossed. The reason, I believe, is that the two companies hold opposing beliefs about ad agencies themselves.
Company A believes that agencies are essentially good: that they care about their clients; doing the right things for them; their business results; about the welfare of the individual clients themselves.
Client B believes that agencies are self-interested, incompetent, disposable, and rarely generate enough value to pay for their
(perceived) hefty fees. And you know, both are right.
Historically, each of these companies has treated their agencies in opposite ways, one as a true and valued partner, and the other as
a low level supplier. Each has gotten exactly the results they expected.
So, as the media and compensation models in the ad business quickly evolve, the Hobbes versus Locke debate rages in our industry the same way it did in the 19th century. The winner will determine if this is a business I still want to be in. I am rooting for Hobbes. Or is it Locke. I never did remember which was which.