Friday, 19 September, 2008

Ad secretary

We have a simple way defining professionalism: “Hum kam bechne aye hain, izzat bechne nehin.” We have come to sell work, but our honour is not for sale. 

And what does a professional find the ultimate dishonour? I think it’s when a buyer tells him what to do. You don’t tell a doctor how to diagnose, you don’t tell a hair stylist how to hold his scissors, you don’t even tell a charwoman how to sweep. Why does a client want to tell his agency’s art directors and copywriters how to make his ads? 

On the face of it, it makes no sense. At times, the agency people may not ‘get it’. Yet, shouldn’t the client then ask himself why he hired the agency in the first place, and what may have gone wrong since? Are the people on both sides the same? Can he be blowing up an ordinary mix-up? Can a little chat clear up the matter, and bring the work back on track? In any of these cases, he’d get more for his money than by interfering to the level of insult. 

I’m told this behaviour is not confined to the humble ad agency, but extends to even to the hoity-toity consulting agencies. Their reports are routinely dictated. 

So why keep a dog and bark too?

I suppose there are two reasons. 

First, the interfering client never wanted an agency in the first place; he wanted an ad secretary - an DTP operator-cum-typist (There is nothing wrong with either, but a typist's pride comes from words-per-minute and an operator's from his knowledge of software. Copywriters and art dircetors do not seek these.) He never hired an agency; he merely kept a scapegoat. The hiring process was a charade played to get his colleagues’ buy-in to his choice. 

Second, he’s perverted. He trip in life is telling other people what to do, in other words: power. He’s like the director of a pot-boiler who ropes in a much feted art film actor to do an minor role just to slight the latter. “See, I bought him. For all the holier-than-thou platitudes about socially relevant art, he’s a commodity first and an artist next.” 

It’s futile to attempt to explain his actions by ascribing him with rational mind of homo economus. The gains he seeks are beyond money. 

But how does the agency cut its losses? Does business need to bring in ego massage as an acceptable service, not a kickback? 

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