Chris Kyme: Postcard from Hong Kong

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Chris Kyme: Postcard from Hong Kong

Chris Kyme continues his “Postcard from Hong Kong” series and this month his topic is theatre acting and the importance of relationships


Everyone must be asking – where is May? And I’m not talking about the outgoing British PM who we all know has gone missing for quite a while now. But for the first time since I started scribing this monthly blah blah blah last month I failed to deliver. Shock horror oh no, where did it all go wrong? Am I going off the rails?

Well no actually I do sort of have an excuse, I was going on stage. Not the usual sort that we are accustomed to in our business (seminars, awards etc), but the real stage. As in acting. We all need a release from the day to day stresses of our industry from time to time. Some like to run 300k before breakfast, others jump off mountains wearing nothing but a backpack, for me, it’s the lure of the theatre. Yeah so I got involved in a production of short plays and actually I was pretty good. Some of the reviews said things like “Don’t give up your day job”, or “The next Laurence Olivier NOT”, and “A poor man’s George’s Clooney’s gardener”. Anyway. Critics what do they know? Same with clients eh?

Speaking of clients, for now I am, this gave me some food for thought recently after having yet another tedious conversation with a client about costing. Now if there is any work-related topic guaranteed to having me snoring at my desk quicker than you can say ‘Timesheets’ it is money. I know we need to earn it. It’s how we survive. But honestly speaking I don’t get up every day thinking “I wonder how much we can make on that job” because I’d rather be thinking “I wonder what kind of work we can do on that brief.”

But alas, even as a creative, when you run your own agency, you do get drawn into such discussions. It’s a drag. It’s a reality check. A necessary evil. When you work in the creative department of a big agency, this is the stuff they don’t bother you with. You just have to focus on running your part of the show. When you run your own agency, it becomes the show.

What bores me even further, and never ceases to amaze me, is how ridiculous some of the conversations are. There was a brilliant film created a company called Scofield Digital Storytelling which hits many nails on many heads beautifully.


It’s hilarious, yet sad too, because it is the reality of what we face every day. I don’t know why. I don’t know why people never challenge the costs in restaurants, hair salons or CD shops the way they challenge what we propose as fees for our honest hard work.

I was once in a presentation to the owner of a chain of boutique hotels. We had been working away for a few weeks, drumming up ideas, exploring designs, to show him how he should be promoting his brand. At the end of our presentation he said “Your work is great but your costs are way too high.” Excuse me?? Based on what? How do you know? So I challenged him with a little analogy. I said “So, I like your hotel, I love the rooms, the cool style etc, and I want to stay. But your room rate is too high. If I bring my own pillow and toiletries can you knock 30% off?” That argument went down like a lead balloon and never did we meet again. And rightly so. You don’t tell us how we should charge.

But it highlights something else that you learn is actually the most important aspect of our business when you grow up and run your own place, and it affects everything from the money you earn, how efficiently you get paid, and what kind of work you can sell. And that is the client relationship.

If you get that right, then everything else falls in place. I would say that at least 50% of the business we have gained in the years I’ve been running an agency has come from my past contacts. Either clients I used to work with, or contacts of them who were asking around. If you’re honest with them, do a good job, don’t let them down, good clients will come back, and they’re as precious as a Gold Lion.

With good clients, you can present discuss and defend work in a collaborative spirit. You may not always sell in what you intend, but they’ll respect you for trying. They understand that you’ll make mistakes from time to time. But it’s alright, it’s the relationship that counts. I think we learn this when we work in agencies anyway. Good relationships get formed. The clients like you, they want you. They ask to make sure that you are involved. In the room. (When you run your own agency, no matter how small, they still want you in the room. A lesson I’ve learned.)

Agencies work hard to protect client relationships. It’s why some accounts stay with an agency for years and years. Look at the history of Singapore Airlines and Batey Ads. Cathay Pacific and McCann in Hong Kong (lasting many years until very recently). In fact Hong Kong used to have a roster of such examples of loyalty. MTR and JWT (always used to result in great work). And that’s before we even get into the global alignment accounts. And nearly always it comes down to the people relationships.

One such famous case in Hong Kong used to be between Hutchison Telecom (in the glorious days of the telecom wars) and the legendary CC Tang, Chinese copy guru, without whom nothing ever got through. So essential was he that when he moved, the account moved with him. And one famous incident involved him having to get off a plane he’d just boarded because he was needed urgently (not sure I’d want that sort of client relationship but some agencies will do anything for money).

So, I’m resigned to my fate. Discussing money. Justifying fees. Part of running your own shop. But at least, for the most part I can say, it’s with clients I enjoy working with. And that’s the other choice you can make when you have your own shop.

See you in July (theatre schedule permitting).