What clients seek
“I understand most agencies have their own guidelines for dealing with clients. They tell their client managers how to speak, what gestures to make and what to say, etc. This is all perfectly reasonable because at the end of the day, they need to have their services approved by their clients. How else are they going to make ends meet? Unfortunately, from my point of view, things start to get quite repetitive after a while and it turns out most pitches are similar to a certain extent. This makes them predictable and, I don’t mean to be rude, also rather boring. Thus, the ideas and pitches that stand out is the winner. Naturally, they have to be of, at the very least, decent quality, but as a rule of thumb, I’d say if you can dazzle, you will most likely win.”
Ms. Chi Tran is a Human Resources (HR) Director at Colgate-Palmolive Vietnam (Colgate). The paragraph above is a small portion of her answer when I asked her how she would recommend communication agencies to approach the pitching phrase and also how to deal with their client afterwards. As an HR Manager, Ms. Chi and her team has held many internal events for the company’s staff and employees. These events are usually not very large and although I initially assumed Colgate can plan and execute them by themselves, it turned out the company actually has been recruiting the services of many domestic communication agencies to assist them in making these events as special as possible for the staff and employees.
Surprisingly, Ms. Chi mentioned the book Made to Stick (Heath & Heath 2007) as soon as I asked her for advice on how to communicate effectively with my future clients. As part of my studies in Client Management at RMIT, Made to Stick was used as a reference point on many aspects of the task of managing a client, or many clients for that matter. Although she recommended the book because it contains many valuable lessons, she disapproves of how many people seem to think of it as the go-to guide for professional communication behavior and etiquette. To a certain extent, the book can even be considered the definition of effective communication, but in no way is it universally applicable.
“Made to Stick isn’t actually unique. There was Tipping Point in 2000 and just recently there was Contagious. These books are reference points, not guidelines. It is a given that you would want to be, most ideally, in the service of large multinational companies and giant conglomerates when you graduate. Keep in mind, however, that your clients, the ones you will be interacting with for most of the time, are individuals. Yes, you can read all about how to deal with people and how to persuade or appeal to them, but at the end of the day, there is no sure-fire way to anticipate human reasoning and behavior, at least not that I’m aware of.”
It would appear, then, that the success of these books has become the downfall of whoever sticks to them too closely. They are so widely read and their instructions so commonly applied that clients have become “immune” to them. So if not even the critically applauded and best-selling Made to Stick, its spiritual predecessor The Tipping Point (Gladwell 2000) as well as its spiritual successor Contagious (Berger 2013) can reliably provide a to-do list that can guarantee a high level of success, what can agencies in general and, more specifically, client managers do to be in sync with their clients?
“Just leave out all the rest and focus on the now and next.”
Ms. Chi’s biggest gripe with most agencies is that sometimes they tend to focus too much on brandishing their past accomplishments and do not pay enough attention to the details that will get them the contract. Past accomplishments, achievements and awards are great to look back upon at the end of a tiring work day, but they play no part in guaranteeing a high quality project in the present and future. A vivid example for this line of reasoning can be observed in professional sports in which a team winning the title the previous year does not necessarily mean they will repeat as champions the coming year. Ms. Chi humorously called agencies who focused too much on what they have achieved in the past “shiners” because they tend to “shine” their trophies instead of looking forward to acquiring new trophies. In other words, they spend their time presenting to her and her colleagues why they are qualified for the job but not why the project will be a success in their hands. And no company is willing to commit a budget to a project without a clear picture of what it will actually be like.
“Try to do the presentation at our pace, not yours and keep it steady. Drive slow.”
In psychology, there is a theoretical basis for several cognitive biases called naive realism (Ross & Ward 1995). The social cognitive bias that Ms. Chi is most concerned of is the Curse of Knowledge coined by Robin Hogarth (Camerer, Loewenstein & Weber 1989), according to which better-informed individuals have difficulty thinking about certain matters from the perspective of lesser-informed people. When giving presentations, it is important to determine how much the client know about the subject matter being discussed and walk them through all the details step by step. This might sound simple enough but in reality, it is anything but. Over the course of her career, Ms. Chi has not had much problems with this but she said some of her colleagues (she did not reveal their names and positions) can easily be put off by phrases such as “obviously” or “as everyone knows”. Beware of the Curse of Knowledge, she said, because while we communication abstract terms and jargons for granted, the uninitiated will only be hearing opaque phrases (Heath & Heath 2006).
“Be presentable. It’s not good if your presentation looks better than yourself.”
I’ve observed that the communication industry requires less stringent dress codes. However, as Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man” (Atkins 2012). True, what we wear affects how we perceive ourselves, and how others perceive us as well. As future client managers, we will one day be representing our entire agency as we should make ourselves look as appealing to the client’s eyes as possible. Many people mistake being well-dressed for being dressed in expensive clothes. Nothing can be further from the truth. A dress from NEM will look just as good as one from Margiela if the wearer knows how to adorn it.
Although our interview was brief, it contained much useful information. Ms. Chi did not gave me many suggestions to take into the workplace, she only gave me the most relevant ones. I will end this blog with another of her gems.
“You should dazzle your client by working with purpose. Don’t be fancy. Simply and truthfully show your client who you really are and what you can really do because if they cannot be convinced by the real you, all the fancy extras in the world will not help you succeed.”
Atkins, A 2012, “Clothes Make the Man”, Atkin’s Bookshelf, posted March 2012, viewed 5 September 2013, http://atkinsbookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/clothes-make-the-man/.
Camerer, C, Loewenstein, G & Weber, M 1989, “The Curse of Knowledge in Economic Settings: An Experimental Analysis”, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 97, No. 5, pp. 1232-1254.
Heath, C & Heath, D 2006, “The Curse of Knowledge”, Harvard Business Review, posted December 2006, viewed 5 September 2013, http://hbr.org/2006/12/the-curse-of-knowledge/ar/1.
Kakutani, M 2013, “Mapping Out the Path to Viral Fame”, New York Times, posted February 2013, viewed 5 September 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/books/contagious-why-things-catch-on-by-jonah-berger.html.
Ross, L & Ward, A 1996, “Naive Realism in everyday life: Implications for social conflict and misunderstanding”, in T Brown, ES Reed & E Turiel (eds), Values and knowledge, Taylor & Francis, New Jersey, USA, pp. 103-105.
Berger, J 2013, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Simon & Schuster, New York, USA.
Gladwell, M 2000, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Little Brown, New York, USA.
Heath, C & Heath, D 2007, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Random House, New York, USA.