A Pair Of Ruby Slippers

July 14, 2007

Tin Man

Filed under: MACMP — author @ 12:17 pm


tin-man-box.jpgIt seems I have turned into a girly swat, I even handed in my last piece of coursework early. But it’s not that I was just so swatty that I couldn’t wait to get it done excluding everything else from my life (ha! my “Life”!) but rather that I have learnt something in the last few years, mainly from having had the kids. I have learnt that I can’t leave things to the last minute any more because if I do, one of the little dahlings will get Hand, Foot and Mouth or something gross and I will be in trouble. So I build in time for these things to happen just in case and then if they don’t I can hand in early and go and enjoy the weekend. One of the main things that struck me about Tin Man’s work is that he conducted the AI and I think wrote his report all in a space of about 4 weeks. I can’t help but be impressed as I would only be able to get about halfway through in that time but I do wonder if this made his job harder than it needed to be?


One of the main things that struck me about Tin Man’s work is that he conducted the AI and I think wrote his report all in a space of about 4 weeks. I can’t help but be impressed as I would only be able to get about halfway through in that time but I do wonder if this made his job harder than it needed to be? It then struck me that perhaps this is the same with the projects that he works on, that he has to deliver large pieces of work in a relatively short period of time, a common malaise for SMEs. Then that this way of working exacerbated the time he could allow for this AI, which could be potentially time saving – a vicious circle. This is an issue I have come up against at work that as a result of my personal experience have tried to counter. When I inform agencies that I want them to tell me (within reason) the timescales for a project they look genuinely gobsmacked – but it works well. Obviously one cannot do this for every project but I have found it to be a good approach when possible. It is also an example of how I like to work with my agencies, more in the spirit of a colleague that I would sit next to rather than a contracted service. It is this idea of that relationship that forms the basis for my main area of criticism of Tin Man’s AI.


As “a client” myself, I would love to have someone like Tin Man to work with, he clearly cares about and wants to improve the experience for his customers. Tin Man didn’t involve anyone from the client side in his study, if he had I suspect that the materials he produced would be a little different and he may have got another slant on issues and opportunities. In choosing the subject of improving client communication for his AI he is picking on a key element of this relationship between agency and client and in my experience something that is usually overlooked. I have recently run a pitch process in Munchkin Land to decide who will create our new corporate site, all of the agencies we saw would no doubt be able to give us something technically splendid, what I spent more time deliberating over was, could we work together? Do they understand our culture? Can they work with us to develop the site in line with other channels’ strategies? And crucially, how would they go about helping us to source content? This is an area that Tin Man gives scant regard pushing it back to the client – but then not giving them the chance to respond.


When questioned about the decision not to involve clients in his AI Tin Man explained that he felt his team meetings (where he conducted research for his AI) were not the appropriate arena to consult with clients – sounds like he felt they would either be scared off or would change the dynamic so as not to make them useful to his team. I know he intends to involve them at a later date (and indeed views this as the second cycle of AI) which is useful but I still feel they could have been consulted earlier. I can’t help but wonder that if he had been able to give himself a little more time he might have been able to incorporate some contact with them. If Tin Man’s team meeting was not deemed an appropriate platform to involve clients I feel he could have made use of other media such as online surveys or even emails or phone calls. There was also an opportunity to involve ex-clients or tap me for info if using current clients was not sanctioned by the bosses.


Following on from my criticism of not involving the client I wonder if Tin Man’s AI provides an opportunity to take exploring this relationship further. I would like to see the whole relationship between the agency and their clients examined as an extension of his work on the communication media. I wonder if the agency Tin Man works for can use AI to try and move how they are viewed by the client from the arena of tactical supplier to something more approaching strategic partner by refining how the 2 parties approach projects together using the AI process.


If they can be seen as a strategic partner the agency’s clients will start to view the agency as a crucial intrinsic element of their future business success. On a basic level this would help to bring in more work, but also it would be interesting to see what effect it had on the issues that Tin Man mentions that prompted his study These being: understanding what service the agency offers, sourcing content and the design process. To be viewed as strategic partners, the agency would have to reach a detailed understanding of the client’s business organisation, culture and strategy. I would say that Tin Man’s AI has been looking at the reverse – the client gaining an understanding of what the agency does. Whilst this does clearly need clarification, I think there is a chance that examining both sides in an AI study would provide a fuller picture. This is assuming that Tin Man’s agency engages in some strategic (as opposed to purely tactical) projects of course although I would be surprised if they didn’t having viewed some of their work via their website such as the Drysuits & Wetsuits company for whom they have done more than 1 piece of work.


This type of AI to change the client/agency relationship would of course need buy in from the client side. Tin Man has used Goffman (1959) to explain why he didn’t invite the client to his meetings as he saw the client as undermining, their authority. Goffman further endorses Tin Man’s point about changing the team dynamic with his theory that the audience (his clients) also often like to sustain the impression fostered by the performers. So possibly even if Tin Man and his team were to invite a client in, they may not be willing to actually see what was taking place in the meetings or to surrender the impression that they previously had of the agency. Goffman attributes this to the audience seeing a time and hassle saving by not breaking down the illusion. This might translate into Tin Man’s work by what we have seen already from some of his clients – they just want to deliver a brief, possibly not a very good one, then see some pretty designs closely followed by a website that looks fab and does what they want without them ever actually having to get involved at all. Therefore would they view getting involved in this type of study as a hassle, or could they see that potentially it represents the opposite?


This is tricky stuff though, Goffman also highlights that performers may be unaware how routine their performance with their audience is. For Tin Man this means trying to gently show this to his team without upsetting them. It is possible that the team meetings could change and still be productive or even more so for example, but routine is stopping this from being seen. Marvellous I can come in and use my team meeting AI on them – how convenient. This could mean that having the client in the very meeting that they don’t want to disrupt could have a positive not a negative effect. I guess there is only one way to find this out and it could be risky.


To add a further layer of complexity, Goffman alerts us to the issue that audiences when not colluding as above, are looking for clues that the performance being given is false, so to move the agency from performer (or tactical supplier) to becoming one team with the client (strategic partner) the original performances by Tin Man et Al have to be flawless to convince them it is a good idea. Incidentally this harps back to a discussion in the forum where there was much written about why a live performance is frequently preferred over a recorded one – it’s the same thing; everyone is waiting to see if you go wrong!


In the forum, we discussed with Tin Man about “cover your arse” type of documentation. Others pointed out that they should have this in place so that they are covered when their sometimes wayward clients request excellent things like switching on the Google button. I know where they are coming from but feel that the AI has the potential to find a different way round these issues. Ultimately even if a client is completely in the wrong and directed back to Ts and Cs it is unlikely to pacify them if an issue arises – the kind of “tough, that was in the small print” type response is not terribly helpful for either party. If the two worked together in a different way then these types of issues need not arise as regularly. Perhaps there is scope here for the AI to look into different ways of imparting Ts and Cs rather than the “cover your arse” doc? Is there potential to try out client training perhaps? This could be extended to cover the issues created by clients expecting the agency to write copy too – it is not rocket science (I do it all the time), a few pointers in 1 session could go a long way – could be chargeable too of course.


Then there is the thorny issue of content gathering. With Tin Man’s it AI feels like stale mate to me – he is quite rightly pointing out that he doesn’t know what these companies do and that they need to generate their own content. But then it is likely that these companies have never had to do this before and don’t know where to start. Is this another area in which AI could help? Could there be a trial of something like seconding an agency member of staff into the client office for a day to help them start to generate the content perhaps or a workshop to generate ideas. This would all be part of moving the relationship to strategic partner too. Potentially if these ideas worked they would be cost and time savings. I rather suspect we are back to where we started though with the initial outlay of time being a stumbling block needing a fair amount of influence and negotiating to overcome.

Enough of this talk of expansion of Tin Man’s AI I think. I am getting carried away, but that is really only because these issues are dear to my heart and I am really encouraged to see them being tackled. Although Tin Man says his personal profile in his office has not changed, I feel sure it must have done slightly and even though this might not show immediately, perhaps there will be opportunities in the future that arise as a result of this? Sadly I am not convinced that his bosses realise just what an asset they have in Tin Man and how what he is doing could be so beneficial for the whole company. I guess there is a challenge there for Tin Man to show them. I promise this is the last time I bang on about involving the client, but if he did there is a chance that the client might feed this back to his bosses for him. I certainly would.


Goffman, E. 1959 The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. London: Penguin



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