Prabhakar Mundkur: What Clients Want

13 Dec,2018

By Prabhakar Mundkur


The advertising and communications industry seem to be to shuffling its toes in the search for a new business mission and orientation to meet the demands of a business that has shoved them into obsolescence.


One of the phrases doing the rounds is reorienting themselves to “what clients want”.  In a sense, the business was always about what clients want, but the day we forgot “what clients need “is what marked the downfall of the ad industry.  Clients wanted separate media. So, we separated it. Clients wanted exclusive agency units for their own business, so we created them.  Often they didn’t know what was good for them.


We forget that the day we forgot what clients really need we became the servile partners in this business relationship.  When Bill Bernbach wrote the famous Volkswagen campaign, he gave them what the client really needed to make Volkswagen a great car in the USA.  You might think it is a small semantic difference but it is not because it changes the way you look at things.


And I think that is the crucial difference between agencies and consultants.   Consultants see what clients really need, not only they want. If we just give clients what they want there will never be a sense of expectation and surprise! We will just be a supplier of goods made to specifications. We will never go beyond the ordinary.  We will never push ourselves.  Of course, in my own experience clients don’t really always know what they want either. They wait for us to show them the way.  If we don’t, we have added no value in the relationship.


In our tearing hurry to reorient ourselves perhaps it is also worth giving a new name for our industry.  We are not agencies or agents, anymore are we?  Or do we still we think we are?  The meaning of agent is “a person who acts on behalf of another person or group”. It somehow seems to suggest that the product has no value added and the compensation will be a commission, something that died in the advertising industry a long time ago.


The other confusion seems to be on how to define the business.  Is it creative transformation or business transformation or digital transformation as some communication groups are already claiming or is it some other kind of transformation we are seeking for our clients?  I believe WPP has already banned the use of the word digital internally.  Incidentally, is this what clients want? I hope so.  If we won’t really want to use the word digital, well that is fine, but what else do we want to say.


When Wunderman announced its merger with JWT, I went to the Wunderman website, and found that their case studies looked like ad agency case studies compartmentalized into the 3 terse and all too familiar buckets: Challenge, Work and Results. I thought that is what agencies do. I somehow expected a company that prides itself as competing with the consultancy companies and with data and digital capabilities would present itself differently.  But no, Wunderman was imitating an ad agency. They even present a short video of their work in the case study just like another ad agency.  I was left wondering what consulting, data and digital skills had been involved.  I then went to the JWT website and found it many shades better than Wunderman.


The industry obviously is in a state of flux and in some ways, it might not be the best time to look at it with a microscope.  But one can’t help wondering where all this is headed.


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