Front office vs back office: have we got our priorities back to front?

Excuse me if what remains of my hair has fallen out, but a client has asked us to have a look at their suite of back-office letters.   They really are bad beyond all belief – not just ugly, amateurish and hopelessly off-brand but in many cases utterly and completely incomprehensible. 

With the result that, for the hundredth time, I find myself fretting about the obvious folly of a world in which we polish everything in the front office till the shine almost hurts our eyes, while chucking any old rubbish out of the back office in the direction of any poor benighted soul with the misfortune to be an actual client.

You could think of this as grotesquely cynical – we’ll offer up any old blandishment to seduce the clients, then dispense with the mask as soon as they’re in our clutches.  But actually, as so often in financial services, I think it’s more cock-up than conspiracy.  For long-standing organisational reasons, marketing and communications people don’t have authority over the back office:  and, what’s more, they don’t much want it, because they can see that getting a grip on the situation calls for loads of unrewarding gruntwork on very tight budgets.  (Worse, it usually means coming to terms with horrendous systems constraints which mean that of the 30 things that would make the most difference to clients only 4 are actually achievable.)

Agency people are usually more than ready to collaborate in this front-office-centric way of thinking.  Several have been genuinely puzzled to see me poring over the form of words in our client’s Partial Redemption Statements.  But I guess that one of my odder but more ingrained characteristics is that I am, genuinely and deeply, committed to producing communications that people can understand.  And if changing something grimly dull and meaningless into something reasonably lively and pertinent floats your boat, as it does mine, you’ll find that once you get into the stuff on the back-office system you’re ploughing shoulders-deep through opportunities to make a difference. 

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