Today we’re going to consider what would appear, at least within our industry, to be something of an outmoded topic. Today’s Cog Blog is all about courtesy.

Now, this could easily turn into an extended moan (fully illustrated with examples) about how people don’t return calls; aren’t prepared to take a second to reply to an e-mail; how meetings are cancelled at ridiculously short notice; how the young people of today…

I call this the Cog (Cynical Old Git) Blog for a reason.

But there are a couple of serious points behind this. We’re in a service business after all, and it’s easy for the bad manners extended to people like me who, let’s face it aren’t really that essential to all those self-important agency and media owner executives’ everyday lives, to creep over into dealings with their clients. Bad habits are often hard to break.

Perhaps more to the point, it’s also the case that good ideas can (and frequently do) come from the most unlikely places. In my agency days I’m told I enjoyed a reputation as someone who would always try to find the time to see anyone. The reason for this was not only that I enjoyed people’s company, or that I thought there might be a lunch, dinner, Test Match or golf game invitation in the offing (all true enough), but that I was also on the lookout for new ideas that might benefit my clients in some way and which would reflect well on me and my agency, too.

That’s why we ran a competition for media owners to propose new and innovative ways for our client Perrier to use their particular vehicles; it’s why we invited a leading independent production company in to preview their upcoming show and to answer questions from our clients; it’s how Kellogg’s came to be involved in the first ever UK advertiser supported TV series, subsequently bought by and aired on ITV; and it’s how a series of short films made for Adidas came to be featured every week on the BBC’s then flagship Saturday afternoon sports show ‘Grandstand’ (until an over-boastful creative agency account guy wrote about the coup in a national newspaper, whereupon our slot disappeared rather rapidly).

All of these (and more) initiatives came from outside organisations, often from small, independent companies with great ideas and no easy access to the money needed to make them happen. Certainly many of these companies went on to great things (in one case, Anne Wood’s Ragdoll Productions went on to invent The Teletubbies, and you can’t get much better than that), but that came later.

I’m well aware that there are examples of similar things happening today, but I fear that they are comparatively few and far between. The carapace of busy-ness under which many agencies (and clients) hide from the world outside discourages entrepreneurial approaches. A dog chasing its own tail is busy; those un-answered calls or e-mails might just be from someone with a brilliant idea.

Discourtesy is in itself unpleasant and inexcusable, but when it leads to opportunities being lost, well that’s a whole other thing. When, as an “agency veteran” I’m asked for my advice (from my bath chair, with a chocolate Oliver and a mug of sweet tea to hand) I tend to whisper: “You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs. And don’t forget to do it with a smile and a polite word for the frog, too.”

Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells at Leo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director),Brian Jacobs Universal McCann (EMEA Director) and Millward Brown (EVP, Global Media). He has worked in the UK, EMEA and globally out of the USA. His experience covers shifts from full-service ad agencies to media agencies; from traditional single-commercial-channel TV to multi-faceted digital channels; and from media planning to multi-disciplinary communication planning. Brian can be reached at brian@bjanda.com.

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