Broad range of interests helps: Paton

Judy PatonSenior Vice-President, Communications DirectorBacker Spielvogel Bates CanadaQ. What does it take to be an agent of change?A. I think that's the nature of our business, trying to make things happen.You have to believe in the product you're promoting, and be...

Judy Paton

Senior Vice-President, Communications Director

Backer Spielvogel Bates Canada

Q. What does it take to be an agent of change?

A. I think that’s the nature of our business, trying to make things happen.

You have to believe in the product you’re promoting, and be committed to your client’s business. You have to love the work you’re doing, and you have to work in an environment that encourages imaginative solutions.

I think it helps to be a well-rounded person, to be able to draw from a broad range of different kinds of experience, personal as well as business.

Because I think that a lot of the thinking comes from the different people you meet, wherever you go, and if you’ve got a lot of different interests, that helps.

Q. How has the client-supplier relationship changed over the past couple of years?

A. I’ve been in the business a long time and I’ve heard [client demands that agencies work with them as strategic partners] off and on for as long as I’ve been in the business.

I think [Labatt Breweries president Hugo Powell's wake-up call] was a reminder, more than a change, that the way everybody succeeds is if you are a partner, not a supplier.

It has to exist that way, particularly now, because business is tough on budgets, but also on personnel. At the client level, they are looking outside to fill some of those gaps.

The clients that have successful relationships with their suppliers have always been looking for supplier-initiated change. From an agency standpoint, we don’t consider ourselves suppliers, we are in partnership with our clients.

Q. When you enter a relationship with a client, how do you determine just how open they are to supplier-initiated change?

A. It’s probably evident right from the beginning in terms of their willingness to share information. The more they hold back, the more difficult it is to try and initiate change. If they are willing to share, they are willing to accept suggestions, and they are much more open-minded, I believe.

Q. How important to the process of change is understanding your clients’ business?

A. It’s a given. It’s absolutely essential. I don’t think you can come up with the right solutions that the client will consider appropriate unless you thoroughly understand their business.

Q. From where do you get your inspiration?

A. I don’t think I would really call it inspiration. I think my approach is simply to use common sense.

As an agency group, we try to be aware of, and analyze what has and has not worked for our client, for their competition, and even for other unrelated products.

From there, we can adapt, adopt, reject and start fresh as necessary. It’s learning from everything that’s around you.

Q. How do you stay on top of trends?

A. It’s just as basic as reading everything you can, talking to people and listening. It’s a basic awareness of what goes on around you and drawing from everywhere.

It probably sounds trite, but I think that’s the best way to learn.

Q. What would be your advice to clients who have expressed dissatisfaction with their suppliers’ willingness and ability to initiate change?

A. Most solutions start with yourself. As tactfully as possibly, I would suggest that the client examine whether or not he or she has created an environment to encourage new thinking. Are they themselves open to change?

Also, is the supplier being compensated adequately for the work they are doing now, so they are encouraged to come up with new solutions? I don’t necessarily mean compensated in terms of money, but reinforcement. We all need it.