What I wish I had known about my clients

HBC's Allison Litzinger tells agency staff what she's learned after a year client-side, from in-housing to effective collaboration.
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By Allison Litzinger

So, I made the switch. After close to two decades in advertising agencies, spending the last 14 years at Leo Burnett Toronto and contributing to work that has been recognized at Cannes, the Clios and The One Show, I left the industry I had grown up in, made friends in and loved being in, to make the leap to becoming a client.

It’s been almost a year now and it has been a whirlwind of great emotions, from meeting new colleagues and learning a new process to understanding different perspectives and priorities. My exposure to different infrastructures has opened my eyes to the complexities that exist inside our – oops, inside your clients’ lives, as well as many moments I wish someone had told me as an account leader throughout my time in advertising.

But advertising isn’t the most important, fun part of your day?

I truly loved coming up in advertising. I felt passionate about what we were creating and my co-workers felt the same way. I assumed anyone else that gets to be a part of this fun must love it just as much.

I’ve come to realize that, in the same way people have chosen their careers in advertising, people have chosen their careers in the marketing and branding departments of various companies. This may sound obvious, but it wasn’t so obvious when I was in the agency world, and it might not be clear to you, either. There are so many different lines of business with specific needs and responsibilities that advertising plays a role in, but only that – a role.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in several different processes, not just creating advertising. So, the enthusiasm and passion for a business is amazing to see from an agency partner, but having a team that understands the agency is only a part of a broader team and a compliment to other individuals helps us clients dramatically.

In-house doesn’t mean you’re not invited

“In-house vs. external agencies” seems to remain a hot topic on the conference circuit. This choice seemed to permeate my understanding of how clients ran their businesses, and how it needed to exist.

More and more businesses, regardless of size, have an in-house creative department. It can be a great idea, given today’s media landscape. But agencies can find this threatening, confusing or, worse, a reason to not partner with a business. But depending on the complexity of a business, the in-house departments allow for a perspective and creative approach that can augment the work in tandem with various agency partners. These departments often save operational costs because there are no fees associated with their work, but that isn’t the main reason for having an in-house department – most businesses require it based on the cadence of communication required (hello, internet).

An in-house creative department working in tandem with an outside agency partner can lead to a great partnership that allows both teams to flourish. The great SickKids work of the last several years is a prime example of an in-house creative department (led by ex-agency creatives) and an agency working extremely well together. So if you are working with a client that has an in-house department, get to know the team, treat them like partners and, together, we’ll both be better.

Open arms vs. arm’s length

More and more people that are now clients have spent substantial time working in advertising or branding companies. This means they have seen the process, respect creative problem solving and, perhaps most importantly, strive for true collaboration. I often remember my time in agencies, wanting to keep our clients at arm’s length, afraid they wouldn’t be able to see what could be great in an idea that’s not fully developed.

But in my experience, clients want to be closer to the work, the idea generation, the applications and executions – not because we want to come to shoots, but because often we do truly understand how good work can become great. That collaboration, the trust that forms through the failure of the “bad ideas” that lead to the great ideas, is something we want to be a part of, and is part of what we love about being clients.

Allison Litzinger is VP of marketing, brand and personalization at Hudson’s Bay, joining the company last year after 14 years at Leo Burnett.