When I was 13 I was packed up and shipped out to the Winkler family home near Bordeaux, France. This was part of my schools ‘foreign exchange program’, an educational phenomenon that was rife during the 1990’s. I stayed there for 2 weeks performing household chores, hanging about in 'parcs' and blurting one word, poorly formed French at my hosts. During my stay, other than realising Gitanes really weren’t the cigarette for me and that drying dishes in France was just as mind numbingly tedious as it is in England, I learnt precious little. In fairness to the Winkler’s I think this was largely down to me being a surly, pubescent teenager as opposed to a failing on their part.
However, I do believe the concept behind the foreign exchange programmes of old was a sound one. The idea of picking up and dropping people into a supportive yet alien environment for a period of time is a great way to fast-track the opening of people's minds to new things, new ways and new languages. And these retrospective musings have led me to believe that an equivalent program, that bridges the comprehension gap between agencies and clients, would be hugely beneficial to both sides.
During my career I’ve had stints in both camps which has given me a real world, hands-on understanding of the common challenges teams and individuals face in each of these environments. You can’t read up on this, sit in a presentation or be trained, you need to learn on the job. And from this experience comes understanding and from understanding comes empathy and from empathy comes great working relationships.
Here’s an example of a common friction point that plays out, day in, day out between clients and agencies the world over.
Agency Account Manager says: “I’m really sorry but because you didn’t sign off the work in time we will now have to re-schedule the work to start in a few weeks.”
Client thinks: ‘What? So I’m not important? If you want my work, you’ll make room. I’m the customer at the end of the day. You’ve no idea what a nightmare it’s been to manage the stakeholders at this end, one of them tore into the project at the eleventh hour.’
Client says: “I’m sorry but that’s not good enough, I need the work to start in the next few days.
Agency Account Manager thinks: ‘Just get your act together, get organised and get it signed off at the agreed time. It’s not that hard surely? I had to fight tooth and nail to get it booked in the first place, only for the time to go unused and unchargeable.’
9 times out 10, if the client has worked agency-side or vice versa the situation above can be avoided. There’s a conscious appreciation of what the other person is dealing with and the net result is a much more positive outcome than the above. Importantly there isn’t the stress, tension and anxiety which is toxic stuff for everyone involved and does little to create a long standing and healthy relationship.
I’d love the industry to find a way to facilitate this, I genuinely think it would be a game changer. To that end, if any of our clients are reading this and think it’s a good idea for either themselves or a colleague please get in touch, the LEWIS Purestone Agency/Client Exchange Program is open for business.