What “Client Service” Really Means

Dan Wieden made a speech to the wing nuts who work for him before W+K moved to their new offices in Portland’s Pearl district.
I’ve read it before, but today I read it again.
W+K puts “the work” first and it shows. The work comes before the client/agency relationship and before the people who do the work.
Wieden describes why this makes sense:

In big agencies, the client/agency relationship is the most sacred thing. The difficulty seems to be that the work then serves the relationship, and everything becomes political. And when things get political, the work suffers. And when the work suffers, the business suffers, then the client agency relationship suffers, and you suffer.
And when we say the client/agency relationship is second to the work, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Because the work is a direct reflection of the quality of that relationship. If it is strained, the work shows it. If people are having fun, it shows. If people are bleeding, it shows. If people are just trying to turn other people on, it shows.

In other words, when you put the work first, the people who do the work and the clients who buy the work are happiest. Thus, a logical argument can be made that putting the work first actually means putting people–inside and outside the agency–first.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I hadn’t read it before, but I totally agree. Holding the balance between serving a client’s desires and serving a client’s needs is is what defines an A.E.. Either they can or they can’t.

  2. Mark Trueblood says:

    Wieden & Kennedy is clearly an agency that gets what’s important.
    He’s right. And that’s why it’s sad to witness so much advertising being driven by politics, fear, hubris and incestuous backscratching.

  3. I’ve always thought that working your ass coming up with the best ideas you can, then being brutally honest with yourself to make those ideas more effective, sounded like the best possible example of Client Service. Of course, I had people tell me how wrong I was, but none of those people were clients. Just agency-layer types. When I explain how I work to clients, they eat it up.

  4. Mark Trueblood says:

    In my opinion, clients expect agencies to solve their problems in a way that they’re comfortable with. If you have a smart client that’s confident in you, and you repay their confidence with ideas and hard work, you can do amazing stuff.

  5. Hey Chris,
    In my experience, and yours, clients enjoy working directly with the creative talent charged with making their communications stand out. And that fact bums the emptiest of suits out, which leads them to assert their power, which they don’t actually have. It’s hard not to laugh, or cry, depending on the situation and the suit.

  6. Hey David,
    How right you are. Memory lane brother. We each should win some type of award for the fact that neither of us slapped anybody back in the day.

  7. …and the winner of “Most Restraint Exercised by a Creative” goes to Chris Maley and David Burn. Congratulations gentlemen, come up and get your trophies.