Tuesday, October 1, 2013


As the dysfunctional government in the United States has shut down for the third time in 20 years, I began thinking this morning about compromise.

To many on Capitol Hill, compromise is a dirty word, an anathema. To many in our business, a compromise is similarly viewed. It goes something like this: If we don't stick to our creative guns we will ruin the work and our careers and become the embodiment of Agency Spy's favorite word: hack.

Intransigence, the opposite of compromise, is regarded as the equivalent of integrity. Likewise, loud and fractious intransigence is seen as the hallmark of creative genius.

Over the nearly 30 years of my career, I've taken a much more diplomatic approach to compromise, mostly because, I believe, that clients are entitled to their point of view. My policy has always been to listen to what the client is saying and either find a way to accommodate it without sacrificing the whole, or tear up the ad and start fresh.

It would be nice to live in a world where you always got your way. And perhaps my portfolio would be better if I won every pitched battle and never had to add some bullshit line of copy to a script.

But I always think of this.

Legend had it that Bill Bernbach carried a card around in his wallet. Printed on it were these words: "Maybe he's right."


Phil Adams said...

Compromise is closely aligned with listening.

The difference between listening and hearing is the ability and preparedness to alter your position based on the views of the other party.

Anonymous said...

What do you do when the ask is not compromise, but unflinching subservience to some peckerhead with the IQ of a stale raisin?

I've had smart clients and boy have I had dumb clients. Experience suggests that smart clients compromise in the face of logic and rationality. Stupid ones do not compromise in the "meet-in-the-middle" sense, but rather in the "destroy the integrity" sense.

george tannenbaum said...

Anonymous, an ostensible reason we work hard is to elevate the quality and hence marketability of our portfolios.

If we are in a situation like the one you describe in having to kowtow to peckerheaded clients, we should use our portfolios to escape the agency at which we work.

Good agencies do themselves a disservice if they accept clients who demand subservience.