Have you ever given up on a £1million deal? I may not be the only person who has refused a lucrative project, but how many have done so because of a few words? In the end, we got the job, and 11 years later, you can still see our credit on every Yeo Valley product sold.
When I started Big Fish with my then business partner in 1993, having unreasonable customers wasn’t just tolerated by creative businesses – it was the norm. The worst part of those relationships for me wasn’t the rudeness, disrespect, or arrogance – it was that we never felt like our contribution was recognized. There aren’t many things more professionally demotivating than the people we’ve worked side-by-side with, not to mention the significant role we’ve played in their brand successes.
Luckily, those shitty customers led us to start our business. I will always be strangely grateful to them for their unreasonable behavior, because it means that today we choose who we work with and under what conditions, whether it is a more traditional project or as a partner in a startup.
Consider customers as business partners
We built our business on the belief that we would never be as good as the partners we work with. Many of our qualifying questions for potential clients or business ventures are as you would expect. But it’s the last question on our list that has, in many ways, defined our success as a company: “Are they happy to acknowledge our involvement?” “. We have incorporated this into our corporate culture and included it in our terms and conditions. It’s a small act, but it’s the biggest primary qualifier for us because it tells us just about everything we need to know about a potential partner’s attitude towards collaboration.
All those years ago, Adrian Carne, MD of Yeo Valley, gave me 60 seconds to explain why they should allow big fish on their packaging. After thirty seconds, he stopped me and said, “I get it. Of course, we are happy to show your credit. I was always going to say yes, I was just fascinated to understand why this was so important to you.
A successful customer-supplier relationship is based on mutual trust, collaboration and respect. Forming strong partnerships is how great companies grow exponentially and we have been rewarded for our selection. Alongside Yeo Valley, you’ll find evidence of similar long-lasting collaborations with everyone we work with, from Clipper Tea to Dorset Cereals to Sipsmith gin. What we do is more than just a few words on a packet – but that’s what most people see.
There are other ways, of course: many creative businesses earn credit through awards (after all, I’m writing this during peak awards season). Our friends in advertising have been much more successful in making themselves known. Think of long-running famous creative collaborations, like Nike and Wieden + Kennedy, Audi and BBH, and Ogilvy and Dove — though even those big campaigns lack the “made by…” fine print.
People notice how amazing clients we have and how generous they are to recognize us. They are right, it is an act of generosity but above all for us, it is an act of respect. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you give me six hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.” Similarly, evaluating potential partnerships is one of the most important time investments we can make in business today. And while credit is only one marker of a positive relationship, we’ve found that it says a lot more about them than it does about us.