Imagine an agency without clients

Client listtImagine an agency without clients. Now, imagine that same firm has just been named Ad Age's 2013 Agency of the Year. Seems like a major disconnect, no?

Not if you're a white hot ad agency with the uber cool name, 72andSunny.

John Boiler, the firm's CEO, says he forbids the use of the word client at his firm. Instead, he says, "…their names are Madeleen, Don, Enrico and Paulo, to name a few."

Boiler's employees refer to clients as friends, partners or associates, and always by their first names. He believes it humanizes a relationship that, even in the best of times, can be touch-and-go. He also believes it limits the number of times agency personnel can blame 'the client' for something that goes wrong. “Telling me a client is unhappy is not very useful if it's unclear from whom the feedback in coming,” he added.

To which I add, amen. I've always referred to our best clients by their first names. There's Monica from Whirlpool, Katie from Ernst & Young and Claire from Electronic Ink, for example. Sure, they happen to pay our bills. But, they're also fully engaged in working alongside us as a team to solve problems and raise the bar. And, as Boiler says, they're our friends (and, vice versa).

I like the idea of having friends who partner with us to solve problems.

That said, we've run into a few individuals over the years who weren't friends, partners or associates. They were power brokers who liked to remind us we were beholden to them. They were tactical in their thinking and liked to keep us at an arm's distance. They were also the first to point the finger at us when things didn't happen as planned. To mangle a military expression, they weren't the types with whom you'd want to share a foxhole.

Boiler believes banning the C word helps foster a stronger relationship between client and agency while promoting a healthy workplace. “By avoiding the client label, and thus avoiding bitching about those who we come into the office every day to work with, we are promoting a culture of respect, understanding and open-mindedness.”

I've never met John Boiler, but I sure like the way he thinks. And, I must say I, too, aspire to one day be a top agency with no clients. Happily, with friends like Monica, Katie and Claire, to name just a few, we're well on our way.

5 thoughts on “Imagine an agency without clients

  1. I enjoyed John’s article as well and agree wholeheartedly. He also discourages the “V” word (vendor) as it applies to the agency and how the agency applies it to those they work with. Another good rule to follow.

  2. Well said, Steve. Having personally worked with Monica and Claire, I couldn’t agree more. To add to what you’ve said, with friendship comes trust and confidence. This allows us to think creatively and provide honest feedback, rather than walk on eggshells.

  3. Agreed. I cringe whenever a ‘client’ uses the V-word with Peppercomm and do my best not to use it with our supply chain partners.

  4. Thanks Mari. And, well said. Speaking of walking on eggshells, though, I’ll never forget one former client (who currently runs a West Coast PR firm, btw). She told us we had one, and only one, chance to fail. Needless to say, she never qualified as a friend, partner or associate. She was just plain abusive.

  5. Thanks Mari. And, well said. Speaking of walking on eggshells, though, I’ll never forget one former client (who currently runs a West Coast PR firm, btw). She told us we had one, and only one, chance to fail. Needless to say, she never qualified as a friend, partner or associate. She was just plain abusive.