Years ago, Mike Greenlees was telling me about a gas-fitter who was working at his house.
He was fitting a gas-poker to a fireplace in the front room.
Eventually he told Mike’s wife, Randi, that he’d finished and he was leaving.
Randi said she’d just turn it on to check it was working before he left.
The fitter looked shocked, he said, “You’re not going to turn that on are you?”
Randi said, “Yes, why not?”
The fitter said, “There’s no flu on this chimney, the carbon monoxide can’t escape, you’ll asphyxiate us.”
Randi said, “Well why did you fit it if you knew it was dangerous?”
The gas fitter said, “It’s not my job to tell people what to do, I’m just given a job and I do what I’m told.”
And that’s about the level of thought most people give to their jobs.
“It’s not my job to question the brief, I just do what it says.”
So how did Mike Greenlees end up with a jobsworth gas-fitter?
Well, it started because he wanted to renovate a house he’d just bought.
But where do you start renovating a house?
You have to start with an architect but you don’t know any architects, you don’t buy houses for a living, so you ask someone and they give you a name.
At this point you are probably in just about the same state of knowledge as most clients are about ad agencies, they know they need one and that’s it.
The first problem is, as with ad agencies just like architects, you’re not aware there are differences: good ones and bad ones.
Most clients obviously don’t do advertising for a living, so all they know is what they read in the trade papers.
After he’d had the architect working on his house for a while, Mike said to me, “I’ve just realised he’s like a bad account man, it’s all excuses and justifying things I don’t want.”
By this time, I was also renovating a house I’d bought.
And, true to form, I didn’t know any architects so I had asked Mike who he was using and ended up with the same architect.
I knew exactly what Mike meant.
For two months I’d been going to check on progress but none of the men were working.
I didn’t worry because I had an RIBA contract that said they had to pay me a penalty for every week the house was late.
I mentioned this to the builder who said, “No mate, we can’t start work because your architect hasn’t supplied any plans, so you owe us.”
At which point I realised whatever the job, I could do it better than the so-called expert.
Everyone on the job had been recommended by the architect so I fired the quantity-surveyor and started running weekly traffic meetings like I would at the office.
Organisation is the same across different disciplines, just a matter of deadlines and unblocking problems.
So the house went from being 3 months late to being completed on time, and I don’t know a thing about building, carpentry, wiring, plumbing or being an architect.
But I know enough to find out what’s good, what’s bad, and why, and that’s the difference.
Most clients don’t know that.
They don’t know the difference between what’s good and what’s bad advertising and why.
So they have to trust someone else’s opinion to tell them.
Consequently they are influenced by jargon and what the trade-press says.
Which is how bad ad-agencies and bad architects, survive.
They depend on the client’s ignorance.