Tip 7 - Advice for Agencies Looking For An Edge - A Clients Perspective


bells and whistles - "things that something has or does that are not necessary but that make it more exciting or interesting" - Cambridge Idioms Dictiionary 

7. Don't forget the bells and whistles! A weathered bell and tarnished whistle tied together on what is now a faded and discolored ribbon sit on the credenza behind my desk. They aren’t expensive but they are a tremendously valuable reminder of what not to forget or take for granted. A client deserves your very best – and that includes the bells and whistles – not just on the presentation that you make to win the initial business, but throughout the relationship as well.
Early in my career as the advertising director at Schuck’s Auto Supply, I worked with a Portland based agency that had won our account long before the company hired me. They continued to produce campaign components that were consistent, affordable and in line with expectations that had been established when they were hired. Looking back, I remember that they didn’t seem to invest much in the relationship. They had the account and were in service and delivery mode. Some might say that they delivered the steak, but seldom exposed the sizzle.

A time came when we looked to refresh and relaunch our brand position and marketing campaign. The incumbent agency, along with two or three hand picked challengers, was invited to make presentations. As expected, all were very good. Two were exceptional and separated themselves from the pack. One was the incumbent and the other a smaller firm with everything to gain and nothing to lose. One of the two, while not significantly better than the other, brought an almost magical presence into the room. Their presentation was inspiring, entertaining and just plain fun to witness. There was a feeling of enthusiasm and energy. They delivered the sizzle. They brought the bells and whistles.

In the days that followed, the final decision was in my hands. I wrestled with my feelings about loyalty and commitment, but couldn’t separate the energizing appeal of the challenger. Ultimately, it was the challenger that was selected. It was a great call to make and I never regretted the decision.

Bells and Whistles

The call to the incumbent was more difficult. They were shocked by my decision and the reality that it would not help them to appeal to my boss. When they were ready to listen and asked me why I’d made the choice that I did, I told them that while their concepts were solid and strategy was sound, their energy and passion during our meeting was clearly lacking. I told them that of all the businesses that I worked with I expected a marketing firm to be the best at selling themselves – complete with bells and whistles.

In the next day or two, a package arrived on my desk. It was wrapped in a multi-colored foil that was brightly decorated. Inside, the box was packed with confetti and streamers. And in the center of the box was a ribbon tied to a hand written note. As I pulled the ribbon from the confetti I revealed a collection of bells and whistles. On the note were just a few sentences. “Thank you for the lesson about the importance of bells and whistles. Here’s what we forgot yesterday. We won’t make another presentation without them.”

Add A New Comment

  • Heidi
    Feb. 25, 2012
    Good reminder that energy and enthusiasm matter - and they should! :)
  • Dana Dwinell
    Feb. 22, 2012
    I just bumped into your blog ( isn't that how it always goes) and it was such a TIMELY message. I hope I alway remember the Bells & whistles, but ALSO, the class of the "lesson learned" note.
  • Jack
    Feb. 15, 2012
    Rod, you are a great story teller and do a fantastic job of using them to paint a brilliant picture. Thanks for the insight and the great read.

The Fine Print

Rod Brooks (that's me) is VP & CMO of PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and serves as Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).  It's important to disclose both of those relationships and to be clear that this is my personal blog where I share thoughts and opinions that are solely my own.  Contact me!

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