The power of a good lunch

Jill Byrne

By Jill Byrne

Director of Marketing

Date: 3 September, 2015

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For those of us working in advertising, we all probably think we know our clients well and have a great relationship with them.

We respond to their emails in record time; ensure the creative team are all over their brief; know their KPI’s; send them views on competitive activity; as well as being on top of the financial reporting on their business. We believe we invest in having a great relationship with our client, right?

But when was the last time any of us had a proper conversation with our client that was outside of the meeting room? And I don’t mean the chit chat on the way to, or from reception.

Lunch often trickled into dinner which trickled onto Leeson Street

We think we know our client and have their trust, but it could be so much more, and with only a little more effort. And enjoyable effort at that. It’s something agency people either love or loathe – client entertainment. Some people were born to wine and dine their clients. Others avoid it like the plague. When I began in advertising, popular haunts that the ‘bigwigs’ brought their clients to for lunch were Langkawi; The Unicorn; Le Coq Hardi & The Grey Door to name but a few. Lunch often trickled into dinner which trickled onto Leeson Street.

This was mainly the responsibility of owners, MD’s and board directors. Big deals were often discussed and closed at these lunches. And that’s how a lot of business was conducted in those days – not just in advertising. Today we operate in a pressurised, fast-paced & financially audited era where even taking an hour for lunch is a luxury, let alone making it a boozy one.


But our intentions are good! Bringing our client out for that coffee and chat is definitely on our list of things to do, but it’s way down below ‘create award winning campaign that shifts KPI’s and achieves commercial success on a local and global scale, while coming in within budget and retaining high production values’.

So when we have that chat with our client on the phone, or send them an upbeat text message, we feel that we’ve ticked the box of ‘keeping the client happy’. We go home feeling ‘my client and I are in a good place’.

And they probably are happy – ish. What we probably aren’t acutely aware of is the enormous pressure they face from – pick any or all of the following: – the sales team / the multiples / head office / finance / procurement / on trade / off trade / suppliers / customers / the factory etc.


There’s a reason those boozy lunches of the 80’s and early 90’s were so popular


According to a recent article in Marketing UK, Leigh Thomas reports that ‘the marketing role has clearly diversified and communications now make up only a small part of the marketing mix. Instead, managing the customer experience is taking up an increasing proportion of marketers’ time and budget.’

Simultaneously, agencies are also facing more challenges than ever before. Thomas states that ‘A new competitive set, including Deloitte, Accenture and IBM, are blithely reaching down into our world while we are still learning the language of theirs.’

We are trying to adapt to the need to build CRM; digital; social; innovation and customer experience into the core of what we do. A powerful creative idea is still the holy grail, but only if it can work across all of the above and not just a 30 second TV spot.

So the challenge for both clients and agencies is to talk more and get to know each other more. If you take your client out for a sandwich (more likely to be a carb free; high protein salad box these days) you will find that you both leave your agency and client hats behind and instead assume the roles of ‘real human beings’.


Without the confines of the meeting room, you will discover that real trust, openness, honesty and partnership comes from taking the time to really talk to your client – regularly. There’s a reason those boozy lunches of the 80’s and early 90’s were so popular – aside from the booze.

Neuroimaging studies have established that emotional expression in faces can activate relatively specific areas of the brain such as the amygdala, which stimulates emotion and decision-making.

“Although developments in technology allow business men and women to make achievements in meetings that would have been impossible a few years back, meeting face-to-face continues to bring significant benefits that are much harder to obtain through virtual channels,” Hazel Carter-Showell, founder of UK-based business psychology consultancy CarterCorson, says. “One of these benefits is building trust, which research has shown is behind many profitable companies.”

These vulnerabilities and insecurities are what make us real and accessible human beings with souls


Take that a step further and get out of the office – just being in a coffee shop; noodle bar; burger joint, wherever, will put you both at ease, allowing you both to share with each other your worries; fears and vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities and insecurities are what make us real and accessible human beings with souls. The day job is just that – and there is so much more to all of us than that.

To truly achieve a meaningful partnership with our client, where they look to us for advice; are honest with us in all of their dealings; respect our recommendation and views – we must first earn that privelege. And it doesn’t come from having spent all day with them in a brainstorm session. Nor does it come from sending them over tickets for a gig. It comes from taking the time to get to know them as real people and we can only do this in a real life setting. So let’s get up off our bums and take our client out for a high protein, low carb, gluten free, zero calorie salad. Bet we all feel better afterwards – if not still a little hungry.

This article originally appeared in IMJ, the Agency Issue – August and Vol 41, No 6

Further reading:
See Why Face-To-Face Is More Important Than Ever Before
Effects of Attention and Emotion on Face Processing in the Human Brain

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