“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.”
This is an assertion from the American chef and businessman Thomas Keller, but it can equally be applied to the realm of communication, as we learnt in a recent episode.
At the end of a conference on digital innovation, which we were attending with a client, we found ourselves unexpectedly chatting to her about cuisine and fine food.
At this point, she recounted to us the story of her food processor – one of those ‘kitchen robots’ that can take care of literally everything, from making bread to creating the most complex sweets. She had received it as a gift from a friend, and was initially enthused by it – but just a few weeks later she decided to put it into storage in the cellar. This magnificent robot was so efficient, but it made her dishes sadly anonymous.
It was the same experience, she confided to us, that she had had in her previous dealings with large communication consultancies, who were – in her words – capable only of producing templated press releases, characterless corporate videos, and boring training courses.
Yet these tasteless “dishes”, further tainted by a side-plate of minutely detailed activity reports and a garnish of timesheets, were served up with all the ceremonious pride of a sommelier presenting his grandest bottle!
In short, whilst these “restaurants” boasted inspiring, appetising menus at first sight, what actually came onto the table subsequently revealed itself to be decidedly without soul or savour.
Our surprise dish
Unexpectedly, and to our delight, she then added that the difference in working with us was our ability to guarantee not only straightforward professionalism but also personalisation of the consultancy services we offer to meet the specific needs of her business!
Now, to avoid any misunderstanding, we’re not in a position to judge our client’s culinary merits, nor those of her unfortunate kitchen robot! Neither can we be certain her comments to us were completely dispassionate – she may simply have been seeking a friendly way to pay us a compliment.
But whichever of these it is, her words gave us great pleasure – and for reasons that go way beyond simple vanity.
A precise choice
When we founded BMP in 2010, we had a clear vision in mind: to create a small, agile agency that, free of the culture of large numbers that often dominates rather more complex organisations, would be able to focus passionately on what we love most about our work: being at our clients’ side to advise them.
From this standpoint, we have always been convinced that the primary ingredient for working together successfully is transparency.
As an example, take the initial meeting between a communication consultancy and a potential client; all too often, the team delivering the pitch is not the team that will be working on the account day to day. The senior consultants with the highest-ranking business cards will then seem to disappear into the ether, or appear only periodically, once the contract is signed!
Yet the economic value of such consultancy activities – and therefore their alignment with the client’s investment goals – is directly proportional to the expertise level of the consultants employed to carry them out.
In smaller organisations, however, every client is truly important, to be helped along the way every day with maximum care, attention and, above all, experience. And if this sounds like generosity, it’s not. Let’s explain.
At least two reasons
Firstly, since the organisation is very small, those who run it are also those who advise the clients day by day (one can easily imagine the ways in which an agency’s motivation might differ if this were not the case!)
The second reason is that, with only limited business development capacity (in contrast to those companies with dedicated resources available in quantity, or with clients acquired organically through offices abroad) it becomes vital to construct the longest-term relationships, founded on maximum client satisfaction.
So, no standard, ready-made packages with a mass-produced aftertaste – instead, careful selection of the highest-quality ingredients, skilled preparation techniques, and experience in incorporating variations that will bring to the recipe a taste all its own.
In non-culinary terms, this is about knowing how to individualise, personalise and combine communication services to respond to each client’s particular needs, in line with their specific business objectives.
Finally, chew on this…
Continuing the metaphor, there is at least one last factor that should not be underestimated and is not so much to do with food as with the philosophy of the restaurateur.
A fast-food joint is likely to be highly skilled at organisation and the ability to manage dozens and dozens of covers, but at the expense of the quality of their service and courses.
In a many-starred restaurant, we are guaranteed food and wines of excellence, but, probably at prices that are themselves also somewhat stellar!
The best bistros, however, will combine the most carefully selected ‘raw materials’ with classic flavours, modern recipes and attention to the client’s every want, to conquer even the most demanding palates. (But only if, of course, the owner has decided – through choice, not necessity – to keep the number of tables low).
In this sense, having a manageable and “sustainable” client portfolio is also what helps to guarantee the delivery of a quality service.
And for a small communication agency like us, that’s the bread and butter of success!