No sooner was my last column, Clients from Hell, published than an email arrived in my inbox from another friend and ex-colleague. He wanted to remind me of the ultimate ‘heavenly client’, with whom we had worked. (There is nothing like a friend who ensures that one keeps a balanced perspective on things.) Whenever we meet, we recall this particular client with fondness and admiration. “Definitely the best” we always say. His reminder prompted an email discussion between a few of our compadres from that time, as we tried to identify what made this client such a paragon, writes Britta Reid
Now we all had to admit that she had certain advantages. Firstly, she held a very senior position in a very large financial organisation. Her seniority had been earned through years of determinedly climbing through the ranks. Therefore she had an unparalleled view of the organisation’s history and an intimate knowledge of its politics. She had a finely honed sense of how to navigate, if not actually play, the politics to her advantage.
This seniority placed her in the fortunate position of being able to make decisions and act on them. While she was clear in her direction of strategy, she was nevertheless always prepared to not only listen to her lieutenants. She set out to empower them to shine. The success of the team took precedence over personal aggrandisement. For her, the ultimate measure of success, was whether “it was good for the brand”. This was the basis for all her decision-making – a refreshingly non-egotistical approach.
She understood the roles and differences between various agencies and what they brought to her business. Moreover, she did not hesitate to prevent her agencies from stepping on each other’s toes and intruding into each other’s areas. She, nevertheless, ensured sensible and constructive collaboration. She treated her suppliers like partners who add value to their business. Aware of her own limitations in terms of specialist knowledge, she was always prepared to listen to advice.
She was not concerned about being politically correct. In fact, she was frequently delightfully ‘politically incorrect’, exercising her wonderfully wicked turn of phrase to great effect. Her focus was on ensuring that the job was done correctly.
Possessed of great personal warmth, she had the ability to deal with and talk to top echelon directors as well as the cleaners. She managed her difficult bosses with aplomb. She was always accessible, returned calls and was gracious in her thanks for a job well done.
Her sense of humour was legendary. She was perfectly capable of laughing at herself. She positively relished telling her agency team how she slipped in the mud while inspecting soccer stadiums. She conjured up the picture of herself on her back in the mud, feet in the air, in front of a posse of sober suited FIFA representatives.
Devoid of airs and graces, she would simply get into the trenches to get the job done. She worked with relentless dedication and kept formidable hours. There is nothing so inspiring as receiving a real-time response from your client when you are working those inevitable long hours. Often she would indulge in some cheerful and diverting email banter to lighten the mood, as well as responding to the particular issue of the moment.
She was also remarkably direct – a great relief as you always knew where you stood. She was probably one of the few people in the world who was frank about her opinion of FIFA to the representatives’ faces. Needless to say it was not a high opinion.
Possibly her most outstanding quality was her undeviating sense of fairness. At one point the agency for which I was working, let the account dissolve into the most unbelievable administrative mess. We received a solid and memorable bollocking and were given an ultimatum to resolve all the issues. Remarkably we were granted a reasonable time period in which to sort everything out. We managed to resolve the past issues, set up a new and efficient administrative system and appoint an eagle- eyed supervisor. Later our client would tell us that she never thought we would manage to unravel the mess and sort ourselves out. But she was prepared to let us try. A lesser client would have simply fired us.
Most unusually for a client, she was quite prepared to believe that her team could make mistakes. Although she had high standards, she was realist enough to know that everything did not always go according to plan. With her feminine brand of Solomon’s wisdom, she was always prepared to listen in order to understand what had happened. If the agency was culpable, then we took the pain. When the blame lay with her team, she accepted it. There were some instances where the problem was mutual or simply unavoidable. In the last two cases, she had a most welcome solution. She kept the wonderfully named ‘kokalloly fund’ which covered the costs.
Having this safety net, did not make the agency slack; on the contrary it inspired us to guard against error.
Fairness, directness, humour, knowledge, personal warmth and commitment made her an exceptional client. We would have walked on hot coals for her. Merely “burning the midnight oil”, or “going the extra mile” for her was simply a pleasure.
Britta Reid is an independent media consultant.
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