NABS Fast Forward 2017 week 2: James Murphy and Craig Inglis on the client-agency relationship - NABS
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NABS Fast Forward 2017 week 2: James Murphy and Craig Inglis on the client-agency relationship

Words by James Appleby, client partner at MEC and Fast Forward mentor

Week two of NABS Fast Forward brought us a Wednesday evening of two halves. From the solemn and serious business of improving the welfare and perhaps even saving the lives of immigration detainees inherent in this year’s pitch brief, to the more relaxed and perhaps even frivolous business of hearing from the architects (and builders) of the John Lewis advertising. We would see that these two things had more in common than a cursory glance would have us think.

The setting – the Guardian Media Group’s offices in Kings Cross, an appropriate place to be to receive a brief about motivating social action, and a useful clue to possible target audience.

Mark Creighton got us underway providing some social and political context to the brief and before introducing Martha from Liberty – the human rights organisation, asking us all the powerful question, “Are we going to do something here to make a better society?”. The room fell rather appropriately into a hush of reverence, before applause for this year’s client speaker broke it.

Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, began with a plea to the delegates to not underestimate their own creative abilities here and the contribution that they could make – a timely reminder that NABS is able to add value to society through social action as well as professionally developing the industry.

It was with an undeniably impressive degree of knowledge and passion for this cause that Martha briefed the delegates of Fast Forward 2017. She talked about the organisation’s heritage from the 1930s, before centring on the central issue itself – that of indefinite immigration detention in the UK, one of the greatest human rights abuses currently being perpetuated and seen through a ‘veil of ignorance’. Real change in her view in the current finely balanced political context of slim parliamentary majorities, is a possibility now, making the sense of action in this year’s brief almost palpable.

This challenge affecting a silent group of individuals – amounting to a third of our prison population, but having never been convicted – certainly seemed to make an impression on the assembled delegates. Martha finished with a plea for brains like these to help Liberty reach a bigger audience.

Following a Q&A for clarity, the room changed gear into the world of what makes a great agency-client partnership, hearing from the customer director at John Lewis, Craig Inglis and founder and CEO of adam&eveDDB, James Murphy.

We were taken through a number of golden rules by the two of them, beginning with ‘Be honest from the start’, finishing with ‘Make it fun’ via a number of others in the middle:

  • Understand client pressures
  • Passion is infectious
  • Be patient… and magic will happen
  • Embrace problems
  • Get the basics right
  • There are no secondary channels or less important clients
  • Think beyond comms to the customer journey
  • No one should be above getting their hands dirty
  • Make yourself part of the family
  • Clients want to win awards too
  • Don’t lose sight of the business objective
  • Agencies get the clients they deserve (and vice versa)

Some of these sounded more like transferrable lessons for life, but all had clearly come from a pair of distinguished careers and clearly some wonderful or occasionally hair-raising experiences and near scrapes involving trips to the pub, fights and the odd sleepless night or two.

The assembled NABS delegates, mentors and leaders were regaled with stories of animal rights pressure groups who took to the web to complain about one of John Lewis’s ads featuring a dog. The client and agency found their way out of conflict by all ‘holding the line’ together. A lesson to anyone who has ever stared down the face of public or corporate pressure.

What was striking throughout was not just the clarity and consistency between them as working partners, but the ease with which they finished each other’s… you know… slides. As they moved from showreel-to-showreel, through pithy shared anecdotes and lessons (listed above) to a swift wrap-up to get us all out for 9pm, there was a clear synergy. When Craig began speaking and placed his right hand to his hip, so did James. A scratch of the forehead or a fold of the arms was also more often quickly mirrored than not. One thing was clear to the assembled company; this partnership was one that had been cultivated through the mutual investment of time, energy and emotion. And maybe having fought shoulder to shoulder against the dog’s rights activists had even brought them closer together too.

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