Stalin photo by x-ray delta one James Vaughan. Click photo

Can you imagine what it must have been like working for Joseph Stalin?

One foot wrong and you’d be heading off for porridge in Siberia. Or worse.

So you can sympathise with Alexei Shchusev, a famous Russian architect who Stalin hired to design the original hotel Moskva.

The communist leader wanted the hotel to be Moscow’s grandest. And that put Shchusev under pressure to create a brilliant design.

After a lot of effort, he presented his proposed building to the boss and, fortunately, Stalin was pleased with his architect’s work.

The trouble was, though, Shchusev had given his client a choice. And as any adman who sells creative work knows, that can be a dangerous thing.

The building was to have two wings, so Shchusev had given Stalin two different wing designs. And guess what. The boss said he liked both of them.

Would anyone tell Stalin he had to choose one or the other? Forget that. So what did Shchusev do? He gave the boss exactly what he appeared to ask for: a hotel with one wing of one design, and the other in a different style. And a building which you and I would regard as a bit of a dog’s dinner.

What happened to Shchusev happens a lot in advertising and direct marketing. A client likes a bit of one idea and some parts of another. The creative tries to shout out “No! They don’t go together!” But it comes out as “Mmmmmmph!” because the account person has their hand over the creative’s mouth and is smiling at the client. “Of course we can combine the ideas.”

There was a client at an agency where I used to work whose account was worth a fortune. Trouble was, he wasn’t interested in buying what the creative department thought were good ideas. So he just told the agency what he wanted, and they did his bidding. Unfortunately, the ads weren’t what his customers wanted, and his campaign was widely regarded as a joke – terrible advertising.

That client was a dictator, and dictators get what they want, but not always what’s best for their brand.

Are you a marketer? Do you tell the agency to JFDI? Or do you listen to their recommendations, especially when they advise against doing something?  Share your experience below.

3 replies
  1. Douglas
    Douglas says:

    So what ultimately happened to the architect? Did he flee the USSR and become a copywriter in the UK? Do tell!

  2. Dean
    Dean says:

    Apparently, Shchusev continued working in the USSR, winning lots of Stalin Prizes. In 2004, though, Muscovites decided they’d had enough of his hotel and demolished it.

  3. Peter Wise
    Peter Wise says:

    The other problem with always giving the client what they want is that sooner or later they will ask themselves what they’re employing an agency for and take it in-house (I’ve seen that happen several times).

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