Want a different conversation? Try changing the language. How to get the best out of agency-client relationships remains a hot topic. In fact, from October this year the IPA is launching a series of events for clients and agencies to sit down and master this very challenge together.

It strikes me though that there is a simple thing we could all do immediately – agency and client – to help to start to make the relationship less adversarial. This would be changing the language we use around creative work.

‘Did you SELL the idea?’ ‘Did the client BUY the work?’ Why do we continue to discuss our creative product like it was a bag of onions on a market stall? The work itself needs to sell, but I think that language is dangerous around discussing it.

We don’t tend to like salesmen here in the UK. In the USA the art of ‘selling’ is revered and lauded but here we tend to view it somewhere between Del Boy and the moustachioed wartime spiv hawking his nylons down a dark alleyway. We have an inherent suspicion of the slick salesman and I think it could be the language around ‘buying and selling’ that is potentially causing some of the friction because it is unhelpful in this context.

A client being ‘sold’ the work suggests some sort of underhand and sneaky sales technique by the agency. If they have been ‘sold’ something by the agency then they have been tricked in someway into taking goods that they might not have wanted or needed in the first place. ‘Buying’ a solution can also suggest that they have been hoodwinked in some way by a slick and swarthy ‘salesman’, and this could undermine them within their own organisation. They need to ‘resist’ the sell to prove their strength and smarts.

It is my contention that if we simply started using some different language around getting the right solution to the challenges facing a client’s business, and the commercial application of creativity to solve them, then we could help overcome some of this suspicion and potential conflict area.

I’m not sure of exactly the right wordage but how about ‘did we get to the right answer’, or ‘did we get to an agreed solution’ or possibly ‘did we reach a successful outcome’? Anything but the language of flogging and fly-pitching would be a good start. Now fetch the suitcase from the van, Rodney.

Kevin Chesters – Executive Planning Director at mcgarrybowen.

Follow Kevin on twitter @hairychesters.

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