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When I first started in advertising, the agency I worked for had a business-to-business client where everyone started out. You never had the opportunity to do portfolio work for this client. But you had a lot of opportunity to have client contact, work on a broad range of projects. I did collateral, long-form video, magazine and newspaper ads, trade show concepts, and even a radio spot or two, as well as writing a co-op program. But there was something about this client that made no sense to us youngsters.

The senior folks—creative directors, senior account team, agency management—seemed to care about this client more than one would expect, considering they represented about one percent of billings. Some guys who didn’t even work on the account would stop by my office and say, “How’s that project going for _____?” The Chairman once “popped in” to say, “Thanks for your great work on _______.”

After a year or so, I got up the nerve to ask what I was missing. Why did all the big shots love this account so much. My mentor put it this way, “They don’t love the account that much, Gibbons. They love the company. They all own stock.” Made no sense then. Makes a lot of sense now.

The agency had landed the account just before it went public. Some of the senior folks had gotten in on the IPO. The company had become a Wall Street darling for a time, and the stock went nuts. That year, some of those guys made about as much on that stock as they did in salaries. So, they were all about giving great service and making that company a success.

We haven’t had a lot of opportunities like that. But we have had one. One of our clients likes to talk about “having skin in the game.” So, we became customers before the client went public (since that was the only way to have “skin in the game”). Then, when the client went public, we were able to get some of the first stock, by virtue of being customers.

I now understand what the old guys were thinking. I keep the client’s IR page bookmarked all the time. I check their stock quote pretty frequently. It does make a difference in how I feel about them. There is still pushing and shoving in the normal agency client relationship. But we share a single final objective—make the company succeed. And why would I want to make the company succeed? Well, for one thing, it’s my job (as their agency). But there’s another reason—I own it. Well, at least a little bit.

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