Gerry Graf Talks Commercials, And The Team That Creates Great Ones

There’s no doubt that Gerry Graf, now head of Barton F. Graf 9000, has done, or overseen, a lot of great TV commercials in his career. Here’s just one:

On FastCoCreates, a project of Fast Company magazine, Graf shares the ingredients of a great commercial. Here’s the part that caught my eye, as Graf describes “The Ideal Team”:

Account people: no one who has a vested interest in making sure the client is happy. I don’t want anything to do with people who think they work for the client. Many account people get their bonuses based on how clients rate them. If your salary is based on keeping a client happy you don’t fight for work. Everyone on the agency side should have one goal–make the best work.

I get where he’s coming from, but I’ve never worked in an agency where that was the way things worked. Don’t we all have some sort of vested interest in making sure our clients are happy? That doesn’t mean saying “yes” to every whim, but I’ve never met an AE who didn’t, at the end of the day, want happy clients, or at least ones who were pleased with the work.

Have you worked in an agency with AEs the way Graf describes them? I have seen the opposite side of the spectrum: I did interview once at a rather large agency that still paid Account Directors partly on commission based on quantity of work sold, and have seen plenty other agencies where AEs had client revenue numbers they needed to meet to keep their jobs. But I don’t think I’ve seen such a seemingly adversarial setup as he describes. Or frankly, a place where everyone, creatives and AEs (and everyone in between), agreed on what “make the best work” actually meant.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Pretty easy to think that and say that when within the confines of an agency bullpen. But now that Mr. Graf runs his own shop, I expect him to revise that line of thinking, or go out of business.

    Naturally, we all want smart clients to hire us for our special ability to do what they themselves can’t do, but clients are human beings and what makes them happy is rarely as simple as what goes on during 30 seconds of air time.

    Business is relationships — the ad business isn’t somehow excused from this fundamental reality.

  2. I think you may be overreacting to what Graf is saying. He’s right. Most bad account people like to spout the position, “I serve two masters”—meaning the client and the agency. It’s bullshit. They serve one master: the agency. It doesn’t mean you have to diminish servicing the clients, and it certainly doesn’t mean you shortchange relationships.

    Another bad account person line: “We have to balance giving the client what they need with what they want.” Um, no, we have to give the client what they need, and sell it in such a way that they realize it’s what they want.

    Also, everyone ultimately has a vested interest in making sure the client is happy. But making a client happy should not translate into being a vendor/supplier/ass-kisser.