One of the most important questions you can ask an advertising client is, “Would you mind showing me around?”
Think about it. When you have a conversation in a client’s office, you get a filtered version of that person’s business. There’s a good chance that many of his or her comments have been rehearsed because those same questions have been asked by other salespeople. Across-the-desk conversations are fine for gathering general advertising information, but when it comes to idea generation, it’s a good strategy to leave the office and take a tour. You’ll be surprised at the things you’ll see and hear that can spark ad ideas. (
During my ad agency days, I remember talking to a residential real estate developer who repeatedly told me that his company’s greatest strength was “attention to detail.” When I asked for examples, he talked in vague terms about good products, good design, and good craftsmanship. There was nothing specific, nothing that provoked an idea for his advertising. Obviously, he was repeating the same talking points he had given dozens of times. So, I asked if he would mind showing me around the subdivision in which his crews were working. He eagerly agreed – and we made the short trip to a job site. When he was surrounded by specifics, he began to talk in specifics. He explained why his banisters and kitchen cabinets and finish nails and hardwood floors were better than those in other houses. He showed me how they were marking certain trees for saving. He showed me why their energy-efficient features exceeded the going standards for that time.
My head was swimming with ideas – ad concepts I couldn’t have gotten from a conversation in his office. The end result was a campaign that featured a lot of photographs, evidence of the “attention to detail” which meant so much to him. The tour made that claim come to life on the printed page.
“Would you mind showing me around?” That question can be worth its weight in ideas. If your schedule doesn’t allow time for lengthy tours, a simple walk-through can be helpful. Or you can ask to see photographs and product diagrams. Almost anything that gets clients away from their standard talking points can help you gain a better understanding of their businesses and their customers.
This strategy has a couple of important benefits. First – as long as you are completely sincere in your interest – you will provide your clients with the chance to talk about one of their favorite subjects: how their products are designed, made, stored, distributed, or sold. This can strengthen your rapport and give you a solid foundation for future conversations. From then on, you’ll share some common knowledge about their business operation.
Second, you’ll find a ton of ad possibilities. Ideas are out there. This gives you a practical way to look for them.
Sometimes the right ad campaign starts with the right question. Just think of it as “attention to detail.”
(c) Copyright 2021 by John Foust. All rights reserved.