The plane ride where James Carville reminded me what it's like to be a client

(By Jason W. Rolfe, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
(By Jason W. Rolfe, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Put your ears into their full listening position

On the flight back from Cannes last June, James Carville sat next to me. He introduced himself by saying, "We’re gonna be best friends for the next nine hours!"

At first, we were — we talked about the current state of the airline industry, what a good magazine the Economist is, the NBA finals, music, his former boss (he was pleased I’d voted for him). We were 45 minutes into our best friendship.

Mr. Carville asked me a question or two about our industry, so I thought I'd ask one about his:

"It seems the two parties have been pulled to the right and to the left; doesn’t feel like there’s a moderate middle anymore.  Do you think Mrs. Clinton will campaign as a centrist — as her husband did — or will she need to go more leftward?  And if so, how will she get center-right moderates who were crucial to President Clinton’s victories?"  

I thought it an undogmatic, agenda-less question.

He didn’t.  He snapped into attack mode, going from friendly good ol’ boy to defensive loud guy:  "You’re going to have to explain what you’re talking about because I don’t understand!  The Democrats are total centrists, while the Republicans are so far right that they’re further right than any Democrat could ever imagine being left!"

He continued ranting, and several things occurred to me:  1) I don’t like being scolded and am tempted to punch your face in. 2) A thoughtful and considered counterpoint would make for a more useful discussion. 3) Is this how you do things in Washington — just yell at each other, giving no quarter, seeing things in simplified black and white rather than the grays of reality, with the result that nothing gets done for the nation's citizenry?

I put my headphones on and started reading a book with him looking at me awkwardly. What else was there to talk about?

I put the headphones on because Carville couldn’t engage me or change my opinion because I didn’t believe he actually listened to my opinion.

A good lesson to keep in mind during your next presentation when a client questions what you’re proposing. Advice: don’t just hear him or her — listen to him or her. The worst thing that can ever happen to your career is allowing your ears to fall off.

David Lubars is Chief Creative Officer, BBDO Worldwide, and Chairman, BBDO North America.

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