I’ve worked in our client services team for a decade and I love what I do (even if, on some days, I definitely don’t love it!). One of my other big passions is Liverpool football club, who I’ve followed since the late 1980s. Very recently, the Liverpool manager announced he would be leaving at the end of this season.
Not just any manager. The Boss, the Gaffer, the Leader – Jurgen Klopp.
Maybe he’s well known to you. Maybe not. He’s one of my favourite human beings ever. In my view, Klopp transcends football – his philosophy, his lust for life and his approach to management. He is unmatched in those areas by almost anyone I’ve come across.
When I thought back over the eight and a half years that he has managed The Reds, I realised there are many parts of his approach that resonate in marketing. So I decided to pen this article whilst the pain is still fresh.
Klopp’s five lessons we can apply to marketing
1. Have a clear vision
When Jurgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool, we were in a bit of a state. We had a divided fan base, issues with the board, and a lack of belief that we could ever regain a seat at football’s top table. From day one, Klopp said he wanted to unite the club and that if he were still at Liverpool in five years, we would have won the league title (something that had eluded us since 1990). This wasn’t arrogance, it was a conviction that if people bought into his vision and worked with a clear goal, then success would follow.
Agencies need the same clear vision. What type of agency do you want to be? One that is best known for award-winning creative work? One that breaks new ground and is known for innovative new approaches? One that says no’ to clients when they kill the best ideas for the ‘safe’ option? Word gets around quickly in this industry, so a clear vision, well communicated, will attract the right people to help you realise it.
2. Overcome challenges
Life will throw challenges at you. On the way to winning the Premier League, Liverpool twice finished second, once by a single point. On the way to winning the Champions League – the biggest trophy in club football – they lost three cup finals, which you might think would get into Klopp’s head. No chance. He convinced his players that these experiences were all stepping stones to what they wanted to achieve together. Once they had won the first cup, two more followed within a year, as well as the league title – for the first time in 30 years.
In an agency, on any account and any brief, challenges will come up. Perhaps the client is set on an idea you think will bomb and it’s hard to convince them otherwise. There could be an almighty ding-dong internally between strategy and creative over the direction to take (sidenote: this is actually good, as it shows people care). Or a myriad of other challenges that arise daily. The ability to navigate these and keep moving forward is key – right throughout the agency. Often in these situations, honest conversations, an offsite cuppa at the right point, and a wash-up, can lead to better long-term outcomes.
There is so much pressure and money riding on football these days that some managers take the approach that every game must be a slog and results mean everything. Klopp has a different view. Though he wants to win, he thinks the show you put on should be fun for your players, for your fans, and for everyone who watches the game. He coined the phrase ‘heavy metal football’ to describe Liverpool’s style of play, which was fast-paced and attacking. When asked about his footballing philosophy, he said: ‘Always have people leaving the stadium desperate to see the next game’.
For agencies this should translate as ‘Always leave your clients desperate to see your next idea’. To help create those great ideas, make the work process fun – think about where and how you brief creatives and your team. Inject humour where it helps and look to inspire those internally and they will then inspire your clients externally. Everyone is busy, with so much packed into their lives physically and digitally these days, but taking time to have fun and enjoy what you do can help the team create great work.
One for client handlers: this also means giving your teams the time to work properly, so ensure you do all you can to defend this time with bosses and clients. ‘They won’t remember if it’s early, but they will remember if it’s bad.’
4. Care about your work, but keep your perspective
Liverpool aren’t the best team in Europe, or even England, but Klopp instilled in his players the need to go hard each game and work for each other. As a result, he has the highest win percentage of any manager in the club’s history which, given our success in the 70s and 80s, is no mean feat.
Klopp’s passion for the game is obvious, but it’s also tempered by a healthy dollop of perspective. This was never better shown than when Covid hit the UK in March 2020, with Liverpool 25 points clear at the top of the league. Overnight, all football ceased and for months it looked like the season would be scrapped, due to the lockdowns. Liverpool fans felt like fate had intervened, to deny us the long sought-after title. Klopp, however, took to the airwaves to remind us that it was just football and what was happening was far more important, with lives at stake. If the season restarted that was a bonus, but it was not the end of the world if it did not. Perspective.
Working in client services and running various project teams, I know marketing can be high pressure – putting together pitch decks late into the night, client deadlines (who sets a pitch deadline of 23rd December!?), creative disagreements that get overly passionate and so on. I want us to always put out the best work, to care about what we do, and to overdeliver for clients. At the same time, there’s a phrase I like to quote to my colleagues: “It’s just marketing, no-one died”. Some people have jobs where lives are on the line, but this shouldn’t be the case in our industry. It’s important to care about your work, but delivering a marketing campaign is not worth anyone’s health. So keep an eye on your colleagues and check in if things don’t seem right.
5. Ask yourself, what will they think when they leave?
In his first press conference, Klopp told journalists that it was less important what people say about you when you join, than what they say about you when you leave. Watching the outpouring of emotion from Liverpool fans worldwide (it doesn’t take much!), and the reaction of the majority of other football fans, who know the league is losing a character, has been pretty moving. Klopp has certainly left our club in a far better state than he found it, having won multiple trophies and developed a group of talented young players. Quite the legacy.
In a similar way, what will your clients say about you when the relationship finishes? Sometimes due to a variety of factors – budget, a new CMO making a mark, or the relationship has just got stale (think John Lewis Christmas ad situation), the client/agency relationship will come to an end. If you have worked hard for your clients, cared about their projects, got to know their industry and challenged them creatively, they will remember it. And in all likelihood, when they move to a new company (which they will), you’ll be getting that call when a new brief comes up.
So those are five lessons I reckon we marketing folk can learn from Jurgen Klopp. Auf Wiedersehen Boss. YNWA.
David Cavilla is a Group Account Director at Maverick. He can be found crying into his beer at email@example.com