Today, I write to you from the no-place-like-it, unique city of Dubai. I’ve been here for a few days to speak at the BPG Group annual offsite conference. BPG has been an agency for 40+ years with offices in Kuwait and Dubai. They are part of the global creative conglomerate, WPP.
Over the past several days I have spent time with the awesome creative teams from BPG. Their eclectic group of team members are from all over the region (and beyond) including: Kuwait, Dubai, Lebanon, India, Canada, South Africa and I’m certain several other countries that I either forgot to mention here or didn’t meet some of the people.
I spoke twice at their event. On Friday I shared a presentation titled “Control the Creative Process.” Saturday, I talked about “The Value of Digital Strategy.” (Their annual offsite carried the theme “Digital First.”)
I also spent hours talking with the great people from BPG about their business, clients, projects and challenges. I found those conversations validating of my own experiences as an agency owner and a great reminder that the same challenges exist for all creatives worldwide.
With that said, I think this article will be somewhat of a “you are not alone” message with insights about things that happen to agencies here in the Middle East…none of which are unique in comparison to my own agency experience or other countries in which I’ve spoken and/or coached creative professionals including South America, Mexico, many places in Europe, Canada, Russia, Australia, India, Africa…I could go on but at this point we might as well just hold a globe in hand.
Clients Can Be Challenging
Clients are not better or worse anywhere in the world. The client challenges I heard about from the BPG team were the same types of challenges I faced with difficult clients at my agency in the USA. Simply said, some clients are difficult.
Sure, some of them want to be difficult and squeeze every little drop of work (and joy) from your life. However, the vast majority of difficult clients are just good people who simply need a little more guidance about how to be a good client. It is our job to train them.
Don’t assume your client knows your process or understands your strategies. Walk them through it. Hold their hand. Explain each step, each decision and help them see how it will help their business.
Longterm Clients are the Key to Growth
I asked the BPG leadership team how long they’ve had their longest client. The answer: 30+ years and counting. Wow! Congratulations to BPG! With history like that, the agency/client relationship is so entrenched that the likelihood of the client ever looking for another agency is very, very slim (as long as the agency stays relevant like BPG has).
Longterm clients become the foundation upon which you build your agency. If you have a vision of a longterm agency with multiple locations, start by making your clients happy on one project, then two, three, four. With each passing project you become more and more entrenched in their business.
Another key to keep a client longterm is to get to know EVERYONE you can at their business. Don’t limit your relationship to just one or two people because it is unlikely that they will stay at the company for 30+ years. You need to know more people inside the walls of your client’s business.
Your Success Comes from Helping Your Clients Succeed
BPG has had some amazingly successful client engagements. That’s why they’ve grown to become the agency they’ve become.
Focus less on your bottom line financials and your portfolio and more on creating needle-moving work for your clients. With this as your proper focus, your bottom line and portfolio (and business success in general) will take care of itself.
Creative People Have Thin, Big Hearts
Oh man, my heart breaks for the creatives who are just trying to do good work and help their clients, but instead of appreciation they receive a bitter pill in return.
Creative people tend to have big, emotional hearts with a very thin layer of protection. I felt this from the team at BPG. I’ve seen it in myself and I’ve witnessed this on countless coaching sessions with creatives all over the world.
As creatives, we just want to do good work, help the clients succeed and go home with everyone happy.
Unfortunately, for some clients that can be seen as an easy opening to take advantage of us. They ask for the extra changes and we say “yes.” They expand the scope and we say “yes.” They bully us with feedback and we tend to question whether we are even good at what we do. Ugh. Some clients.
You, me, and all the other creatives in the world need to work on thickening up the protective layer in our hearts. Don’t let clients take advantage of you. Stand you ground on pricing and scope. This is business and if you want your creative agency to be successful, you need to establish clear boundaries.
If You Think You’re Better, You’re Not
For me it doesn’t seem like long ago when “outsourcing to India” meant “send it to cheaper and less capable people.” But, that was 15-20 years ago and I assure you things have changed. Some of the more “world leading” nations better watch out because the global creative talent pool is a force to be reckoned with.
I watched with admiration as the BPG team presented work, creative ideas and strategic insights over the past couple days. Everything from target audience, competitive positioning, activations, design thinking and many other high level creative concepts were discussed and are part of the every day processes at their agency. The creative talent pool from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, South Africa and pretty much all continents has become so capable, so fast.
Congratulations to all of you ambitious and self-driven people (in any remote corner of the world) for the work you’ve put into progressing your skillsets. You have leveled the global creative playing field. Your talent is on par with anywhere else in the world. I know I will be telling my designer friends in my country (USA) to “watch out” and “stay sharp” because they have nothing on you.
Those are my thoughts for you today. I hope that maybe there is some morsel of something that you can extract from it. Thanks, again, to anyone from BPG who is reading this message. My time with you was wonderful and you opened my eyes to so many things. Thank you!