Machiavalli, oh, Niccolò! The man whose reputation has been defamed in successive centuries since he wrote. A more cynical person might suspect he was defamed on purpose precisely because The Powers That Be wouldn’t want anyone to know how effective a guidebook his rules could be. But no, not I; I’d never suspect such a thing!

That said, let’s remember that no matter how someone bad is, he may still have gems of insight. Hitler was a vegetarian and created the German anti-smoking laws–make of that what you will. “A broken clock is still right twice per day” to use a saying that in just a few years will be completely incomprehensible, once all clocks are digital and thus a broken clock will just be blank.

One of Machiavelli’s most famous insights is the following. To use his words:

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? One should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved.

In other words, as we remember it today: it’s better to be feared than loved, he said.

To get at the meaning, let’s tone it down a bit, to use the words of an ex-girlfriend of mine who long ago once recognized my toned down version as a derivation of Machiavelli: would you rather be respected or loved, if you could only have one?

Machiavelli’s point is: of course everyone wants both. But if you can only have one, effectively–I’m translating this into the way my modern mind thinks about it–respect is fundamentally about survival, and love is fundamentally about quality of life. And in life as Mazlow hierarchy, survival comes first and only once we’re alive, do we then think about making it better. The class clown can’t achieve anything; but the leader whom everyone hates but grudgingly respects for doing what no one else could get done–he achieves a lot.

Now let’s apply this to the agency context.

Most marketers and PPCs and those who work at an agency want their client to like them. They chit-chat. They smile. They may even go out for a beer together.

But I would argue that your client loving or liking working with, as important as that is, is a secondary consideration behind earning and keeping his respect.

And you win respect by doing the hard work, in clever ways. There are a few ways, and they include:

  • Showing results
  • Devising and implementing complex strategies
  • Teaching them something non-trivial they didn’t know
  • Strong management
  • Dealing with (the inevitable) bumps and problems very swiftly

Client success, in other words, comes from earning their respect. So you want your client to fear you just a bit–unless you can strike that perfect balance. Which I hope you can, but I’m not holding your breadth.

Machiavelli, in other words, would be among the best PPC‑s out there.