When the flight attendant gets up and tells you that in case of an emergency, an oxygen mask will drop down in front of you, they don’t tell you that there is only 15-minutes worth of oxygen for each person on board.
Why? Because it’s a detail that doesn’t serve anyone. Making people think of doomsday scenarios or a ticking clock will only cause panicky thoughts, and those won’t get the mask on faster. Nor make for a calm, positive flying experience. (Let alone elicit trust and customer loyalty toward that airline.)
But there is a big difference between omitting details and straight-up lying. This is something that politicians know well: they’ll often leave out certain facts when those facts do not add value to their narrative, or distract from the main message.
Agencies do this all the time, too. There is an attitude toward “The Client” that is similar to that of politicians toward constituents, airline host toward passenger, and corporate executive toward employee. It’s a bit like a parent-to-child relationship, where the former simply knows more about a particular situation and is therefore responsible for making decisions about how much information to reveal.
So they hide things, or rather, choose not to reveal. In many cases, this IS serving the client. For example, say your creative team runs into a glitch during the campaign development process, and they have to scramble to come up with a solution. As long as that solution is solid, and the glitch didn’t delay anything or compromise the quality of the final product, The Client doesn’t have to know. They have too many glitches going on inside of their own company to worry about.
However, there are cases where agencies tend to sugarcoat. While it’s usually with good intentions, it can be damaging to the client to not know the truth, however harsh it may come off at the time. Here are some of those truths.
Your customer does not fit into a “persona.”
While absolutely helpful to build, and understand a handful of “types” that will be using your site and/or buying from you, the concept of a user persona does not take into account the sheer complexity of the human experience. Think about the characteristics and preferences that make you stand apart from what you appear to be on the outside.
For instance, I am a 30-something professional, a mother of two boys under 3 and am married to a teacher. You might make some assumptions about my other brand choices, the music I listen to, and the socio-political issues I care about. You are probably wrong. I don’t consume “mommy media” and could care less about education reform. I listen to 90s ska-punk, drive a very small but fast VW GTI, and probably spend more money on apps than I do on shoes. Even advertisers who have tons of data on me get it wrong every time.
People are unpredictable.
Just as your customer is multi-faceted, and has much more going on than you can possibly imagine, the people who work for your business and that of the agency are, too. No matter how much you have vetted someone ahead of time, be it through interviews on years within the organization working on similar projects, you simply cannot predict exactly how they will perform on a particular project.
On top of that, everyone is human. Stuff happens. And while it’s not worth the time to create a backup plan in case of underperformance, or straight-up emergencies, you have to be aware that not all will go according to plan, and most of the time it is because of human error, or execution issue, not an error in your planning or system. I’ve seen businesses get set back months because the PR account team either didn’t have the capacity or didn’t have the time to gain a deep enough understanding of the industry and thus had to be replaced with all new personnel.
There’s more, of course — but you’re out of oxygen.
Part 2 coming later this week.