Imagine you’re a plumber.

You go to a client’s house and he says, “I’m tired of this old sink. I want a new one put in.”

You say great, I’ll start Monday.

Monday you come back, and a little boy answers the door.

He says, “Daddy’s put me in charge of the new sink.”

You think it’s a bit strange but you’re being paid, so you get started.

You find a support-wall that will take the weight.

Then you start to connect the new sink you brought.

In the middle of this, the little boy comes in.

He says, “I don’t like the sink there, I want it on the ceiling.”

You say, I can’t put it there, all the water will run out.

He says, “Daddy put me in charge. Do what I say or you won’t get paid.”

You want to get paid so you put the sink on the ceiling, even though you know it’s the wrong place.

When you’ve finished the father comes home.

He looks at the sink. He looks at you.

He says, “Are you mad, putting a sink on the ceiling?”

You look at the little boy, waiting for him to tell his dad it was his idea, but the little boy doesn’t say anything.

The father says, “I think I’d better get a different plumber.”

For some people, this is the traditional agency/client relationship.

The work can’t be any better than the client put in charge of approving it.

And, if that’s the most junior person in the marketing department, that’s the level of work you’ll get.

A senior client once asked me how she could get better work out of her agencies.

Let’s assume ‘better’ means advertising that works harder, for less money.

That means ads that break the rules everyone else is following.

The client wants something new, something daring.

I think you have to look at the approval process from the client end.

Who sees the agency’s work first?

Usually it’s the most junior client, what’s their motivation?

To get rid of obvious ‘mistakes’ so they don’t look silly in front of their boss.

They get rid of anything that looks unconventional.

So what eventually gets to their boss for approval is safe and risk-averse.

And the boss wants to know why the agency only ever shows him dull work.

He thinks they need a new agency, but what they really need is a new approval process.

Just like the plumber and the little boy and the father.

If the boss was involved at a very early stage, better work would see the light of day and less time would be wasted.

The boss doesn’t have to worry about ironing out ‘mistakes’, he can green-light unusual, unconventional ideas.

Ideas that would frighten someone more junior.

In general, juniors are all about detail and bosses are all about big-picture thinking.

That’s okay, that’s the way it should be.

So doesn’t it make sense to have the boss involved at the front end?

Then they can spot the big-picture thinking, the more daring ideas, and then get the juniors to sort out the details.

The juniors will be learning by their boss’s example instead of having to double-guess what he, or she, wants.

If you start off by getting the big picture right, you can always get the details right later.

But if you start off by concentrating on getting the details right, you can’t get the big picture right later.

It doesn’t work that way round.