I was at an agency a while ago, trying my hand at pleasing one of their clients. I worked hard and wrote what we all agreed was not only great stuff, but also just what the client was looking for. But I failed. The client hated it.
I felt bad at first, but eventually, I realized there was nothing I could have done. I was the second writer on this new account, and the first writer couldn’t make them happy. Nor could I. Nor could the one after me. Nor could the one after him. In all, I believe five of the top writers in the area were brought in to try to make this client happy.
It was a Sisyphean task. (Hey, the guy who busted my chops for using “bacchanalian”, this word’s for you.)
There was a reason this client could not find an agency that could make them happy. The main client, who we rarely interacted with, was a nice guy, but the lady he put in charge was not a nice person. She seemed pleasant enough at first, but she soon turned abusive. She insulted the work and all the people working hard on her behalf. She spoke to people extremely unprofessionally, even by advertising standards. She killed everything from great strategy to great creative to great media planning to great account work. Then when all the work she wrote and art directed herself didn’t pull, guess whose fault it was? Not hers, that’s for sure.
Naturally, the relationship ran its course quickly. The agency fired the client after only a few months. Or maybe it ended up being mutual once the agency tried to fire them. But either way, it wasn’t all bad. Out of that experience emerged my new favorite saying.
At one point, a few of us at the agency were talking about how it’s a shame, because it was a great product and the agency really could have made a difference. We could have made her a hero. We would have done everything for her, and all she had to do was sit back and bask in all the glory. But no. All she could do was look at the dark side of everything, and point blame in all directions. It was always everyone else’s fault. And not just someone else’s fault. Everyone’s fault.
Then one of the guys sitting around with us spoke up and said he heard an old lady call into a radio show one time with this pearl of wisdom: “If it smells everywhere you go, maybe it’s you.”
I love that. If it smells everywhere you go, maybe it’s you. I hope she reads this blog someday. If she does, she’ll probably try to hire me just so she can fire me. But nah, she won’t even think this song is about you, don’t you, don’t you.
I realize there are all kinds of people in the world, and I’m not even going to begin to try and understand them. But how does someone end up like that? And how do they end up to be clients in charge of managing a relationship with an agency?
We presented work to a client one time, and the client wanted to change the visual in a certain way. The creative director started explaining to the client why the visual was the way it was, and why the client’s suggestion wouldn’t work, but he thought there could be an alternative. The client lowered the work, looked the creative director in the eye and said, “I don’t really care what you think. That’s the way I want it.” She continued staring at him for a moment, then went back to criticizing the work.
Why do people have to treat people like that? Not enough Mother’s Circus Animal cookies as a child? You don’t have to like the work, and you don’t have to like alternate suggestions, but there’s a nice way to say that.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Only a small minority of clients are like that. Most clients are great people and awesome to work with and appreciate our expertise and our hard work. By contrast and by way of example, the agency who had the crappy client also has the nicest client I’ve ever had the pleasure to work for. She thanks people for their work, and after big, multiple late-night rush jobs, she actually goes out and buys thank you gifts out of her own money for everyone who worked on the job. She also sends everyone in the entire agency a Christmas gift every year, again out of her own pocket. In my entire career, she’s the only client who’s ever given me a Christmas gift, whether out of their own pocket, expensed, stolen, re-gifted or whatever. Totally unnecessary, but also totally appreciated. And guess what? Whenever she has a rush job, big or small, and people have to stay late for her, no one ever minds. Gratitude goes both ways.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. Bad behavior is not exclusive to advertising. Duh. It’s societal. As if that weren’t already obvious, this sad fact was brought home to me just last week on the occasion of my high school reunion.
A couple of months before the reunion, someone I didn’t know in school friended me on the big book of faces. We had many mutual friends, and I figured I’d be seeing her at the reunion, so to avoid hurt feelings, I accepted her friend request. But I was warned, this girl does not have a sense of humor, so don’t be your usual sarcastic self. It will be lost on her.
(Quick usual sarcastic self example: I announced one time on fb that I would be cutting down my friends list because 200 friends is just way too many for one man to have. I was actually just pruning the dead wood, but thought it might be a good excuse for a joke. Turns out it was a poor excuse for a joke. One guy thought I was a megalomaniac, coercing people into begging me to let them be my friend, so he unfriended me. Wow. Really? I messaged him and tried to explain that I was joking, but he said we must have different senses of humor. Ah well. I suppose he was right.)
So anyway. With this new friend/acquaintance, I showed restraint. But I could tell from the outset this would not be a good fit. She asked people to pray for her to get a job she had applied for, which is great. I did. Everyone did. And she got the job. Yay! Uh, no. Not yay. She never said thank you, she never expressed gratitude in general, she never even seemed happy she got the job. Instead, she complained about it. Every stinkin’ day. The job is too hard. People aren’t realizing how hard she’s working. The company lost her ATM card. (Who gives their ATM card to their employer to copy? She ended up finding it in her car.) Her new coworkers treat her like a dog and are demeaning and disrespectful to her. It’s everyone, everyone, everyone. Sound familiar? I hope she doesn’t pursue a career in marketing and end up a client to some poor agency.
Finally, I could take no more. After about two weeks of this, she posted, “Rough day.” Yeah, we know, it’s always a rough day, ya dang crybaby. But I didn’t post that. Instead I posted, “Rougher than a day without a job?” I thought that was sort of gentle. Sort of. Like a velvet hammer. It certainly wasn’t the expression of sympathy she was fishing for, but I was hoping maybe she’d think about it and realize, dang, that’s true. I should be grateful for this job, and maybe I should stop complaining about it.
What a sweet, naive child I am.
BAM! Unfriended and blocked. Wow, she could have been a gunslinger in the Old West. I’ve never seen anyone with such a quick trigger finger.
But that was fine with me. I’ve realized that life is too short and too hard to have toxic people in it.
So I went to my high school reunion. I didn’t go to the last one, because I wasn’t really a popular kid. I had fun in school and I had friends (shout-out to my boys in the 7-1-9) and I knew who everyone was, but I didn’t play football or sing in the choir or go out for cheerleading or go to dances or smoke weed or drink. So I didn’t really fit into any particular group. Don’t get me wrong, everyone was nice. I don’t think I remember anyone being stuck-up or anything. I just wasn’t that close with many of them.
But I had a blast at the reunion. As you get older, I think people realize we’re all in the same foxhole, and no one minds if you come up and talk to them. They probably wouldn’t have minded in high school either, but you know, shy kid and all that.
So we all had a great time, and we all posted our pictures on facebook, and everyone is sending friend requests left and right, and people started saying hey, let’s not wait 10 years for the next one, let’s have one in five.
Enter Negative Nancy. (Her name isn’t Nancy, by the way, so don’t look for clues.)
She did not attend the reunion, but she started scolding everyone for not offering to pay for her flight, hotel room and ticket to the event. (Presumably she would cover her own Del Taco.) And someone had suggested a cruise for the next event, and she started scolding everyone for considering that, too. Told everyone to think before they post, because not everyone is blessed financially.
Of course a flame war erupted. Thankfully, I was not a part of it, as I had already been wished to the cornfield, remember? But people pointed out (most of them very nicely) that an offer of financial assistance had been made a few times, and the cruise was only a suggestion. Nothing was finalized. Everyone was just having fun and considering possibilities.
Man, talk about sucking the air out of a room. I did welcome a couple of new residents to the cornfield, though. It sure is peaceful here.
How do you handle people like that? It’s not easy. Me, I do two things. One, I say a prayer for them. As painfully difficult as that is, I found it helps me see them in a more sympathetic light. They can’t be happy people. Immediately I feel better, and the anger dissipates. And honestly, maybe selfishly, that’s mostly why I do that. I do it for me. I don’t want to go through life angry at anyone. If they want to be mad, that’s up to them, but me, I’d rather be happy.
And two, I cut them out of my life as much as possible. Forgiving them doesn’t mean I have to willingly subject myself to their abuse. I may not be mad at them, but I also don’t want their Cloud of Undying Misery anywhere near me.
Believe me, I know I have my rough spots. I’m not always the most patient or the friendliest. Many times, an argument is my fault. (Unless I’m driving. Then it’s always the other guy’s fault.) But now, armed with my new favorite expression and using it as a quick behavioral yardstick, I’m even more self-aware and equipped to be a better human, both personally and professionally.
“If it smells everywhere you go, maybe it’s you.”
Anyone want to embroider that on a sampler for me?