Some Things Never Change: Clients

The client-creative relationship has always existed in a state of both tension and joy. Here, we delve into the CR archives to explore how the business of working with clients has evolved over the past four decades and talk to Havas London CCO Vicki Maguire about what it’s like today

A good relationship between the client and the creative is often heralded as the key to making great work. So it’s surprising to hear that when Vicki Maguire, now CCO at Havas London, joined the advertising world in the late 1990s after working in fashion, she was shocked by the lack of direct communication between creative ­directors and the CMOS, MDs or brand managers who ­commissioned them.

“When I look back, even at creative director level, I can’t remember a lot of creatives actually going to ­clients and having client relationships,” she tells CR. “[Creatives] were very much locked away in our ivory towers, very often working on our own creative floor, where we could think in this kind of rarefied atmosphere and not get ourselves sullied by having to go pitch to a client. Thankfully, the industry has changed,” she says.

“When it comes to client relationships, we’re a lot more open, a lot more collaborative, and I think the ­creatives that are still cutting it are interested in ­[solving] business problems, not noodling around the edges. We go, we chat, we work out what the problem is, and what’s keeping our clients awake at night – and when those relationships work well, we go at it [to solve those problems] together.”

David Abbott a piece about clients for the July 1982 issue of CR

This collaborative approach has long been central to many creative agencies. In a 1998 interview with CR, Mother co-founders Mark Waites and Robert ­Saville spoke positively about working directly with brands, with Saville telling CR, “We really make our clients work and contribute, not just as judge and jury but as a developer of the process.” But this wasn’t always the norm, and the idea that creatives should get involved in the nitty gritty of business discussions was met with some resistance within agencies. A piece from CR in the same year noted a concern over the changing nature of creative director roles: “The job now is two or three times harder than it used to be,” said Tim Mellors, creative director of Mellors Reay. “It’s not just looking for good creative work but dealing with clients’ problems and considering how the work fits in the general market. You spend most of your time in meetings trying to meet creative needs with research and budgets that do not match.”