Caught sleeping

Yesterday, I was in a pitch presentation where a client fell asleep as the meeting was on. He started yawning as soon as we started presenting and within fifteen minutes he couldn’t take it anymore and decided to put his head on the desk and catch a nap. Now, it would not have been noticeable if it was one of those gangbangs with the entire marketing, sales and the factory floor circle-jerking over the agency’s ideas, but in this case, the sleepy head was one of the only two attending the pitch.

The offending bandit woke up after some time, yawned and continued drooping through the rest of the meeting. And as soon as we finished presenting the ideas, he gave some generic feedback on cut through without listening and comprehending the ideas and the scripts completely. Meeting done, our delinquent asked for some more free work from the agency, got up and left, looking for a more comfortable desk and chair to complete his nap, away from the glaring eyes of strange advertising executives.

Don’t take me wrong. Even though I found the whole episode hilarious, my problem is not that a tired marketing executive fell asleep on a hot, mid week afternoon, as my team and I rambled on. My consternation lies squarely on the fact that the agency did not wake him up or raise a point about it, lest we make the client uncomfortable and ruin our chances at the pitch.

We (the creative powerhouse agency) plied on, meekly thanked them for their valuable time, shook our heads in failure and went back to our desks to fight other battles we were sure to fail.

The hard truth here is that the only people who should be embarrassed is us. A bunch of talented people who have absolutely no dignity of labour and have sold themselves terribly short.

This episode should sting because I am pretty sure the sleepy gentleman would have held himself back if his audience were management consultants, market researchers or media planners. Today, a client thinks that a discussion on strategy, research or money is more valuable than a discussion on ideas. And the only people to blame here are the agencies.

We started devaluing ourselves the day we started undercutting to win business. The impression we made to the clients was that ideas are a commodity that can be bargained for the lowest price possible. You can’t blame marketers for taking advantage of this situation. They are pushing agencies to their breaking point by asking for more every year by paying less every year.

Strangely, it is the smartest marketers who are perpetuating this the most. P&G is asking for irresistible, brand growth ideas as they cut $2Bn in marketing. Unilever’s spending cuts have led to the biggest drop in WPP shares in a month.

Advertising creativity is probably the only product which cannot charge a premium for better quality. How ironic.

But forget agency owners. Let’s look at the huge strain commoditization and lower revenues have put on the people. We are recruiting from the bottom of the barrel and burning the good ones out by overworking them on low yield projects and desperate pitching.

There is widespread consensus that (bar a few) the newer generation coming into the business are less driven and talented than the ones that came before. The youngest and lowest in the food chain are recruited blindly to traffic invoices and sit in studios. They are not taught the fundamentals of the business and for most, the only option is to blend into the woodwork or find a new vocation in a few years.

The problem intensifies as we go up the hierarchy. The mid level with 5–6 years of experience cannot independently create advertising, advice clients, or manage accounts.

The level above them, the creative directors and vice presidents, are woefully undertrained, are terrible brand custodians and even terrible managers. They are doing a disservice to their brands, clients, juniors and bosses. But they are nobody’s fools. They understand that their careers will soon end if they do not jump ship and become a client, producer or director.

In the end, we are left with a few passionate advertising nerds, a lot of demotivated passengers and a few clients who can’t take it anymore and fall asleep in our meetings.

The agency model is broken not because of facebook, google, digital transformation and yada yada. It broke because we did not value the power of our ideas.

A picture of me sleeping at work many years ago
Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated menon’s story.