Don’t Wing It

Some creatives prefer to walk into a client meeting and wing it. They know the work so well, they can just talk about it. They want to keep things casual. They don’t want to sound rehearsed or practiced. They want to sound real.

But here’s the thing:

You should rehearse.

Michael Jordan was famous for staying long after practice to work on his free throws. Peyton Manning was known for watching more tapes of opposing teams than anyone else in the league. If Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning think it’s worth their time to practice, so should you.

Know what you’re going to say to a client. Know how you’re going to say it. Know why you’re going to say it.

That doesn’t happen without practice.

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Your Choice

When you have a brilliant idea and your client kills it, you have two choices:

  1. Come back with something even better.
  2. Give them what they’re expecting and just move on.

If you choose 1, and your client kills that idea, you have two choices:

  1. Come back with something even better.
  2. Give them what they’re expecting and just move on.

If you choose 1 again, and once more, your client kills that idea, you’re still left with two choices:

  1. Come back with something even better.
  2. Give them what they’re expecting and just move on.

The difference between great creatives and mediocre creatives is the ability to choose 1 again and again.

And I’d argue that more often than not, it’s also the difference between happy creatives and unhappy creatives.

What Arguing Gets You

I have argued with clients before. I have seen other creatives argue with the client. I have even seen account people and agency presidents argue with the client. And here’s what I have learned:
You cannot win an argument with the client.
Why? Because it is the client’s money that’s been spent. It’s the client’s job and reputation that are being put on the line. So no matter how idiotic their rationale may seem to you, you can’t really win an argument with the client.
That doesn’t mean roll over. I’m not saying be the artless hands of an irrational mind. But don’t argue.
If you argue enough, the client will ask to have someone else put on the account.
Or you will lose the business entirely.
It’s hard to do great work when you don’t have an account to do great work for.
If their reasoning really is stupid and you combatively point out the gaping flaws in their logic, they may yield to you, and you’ll end up getting your way. But they’ll resent you for it. And it will affect your next project, or whether you work on the account again.
Communicating takes more effort than arguing. Helping the client see your point of view takes more effort than trying to put the client in their place. Understanding the client’s point of view takes more effort than being unyielding on your own.
I’m not saying compromise your creative integrity. Just don’t think you’re above the client just because you’re an artist.
You have to be 100% willing to yield to the client. That doesn’t mean yield to them 100% of the time. It means you have to understand that it’s their money, their decision to work with you, and their campaign. Being open to compromise doesn’t always mean letting the work become terrible. It can mean that. But it doesn’t always have to. Occasionally, it can mean making the work even better.
Sometimes you’ll want the client to fire you. That’s okay. Sometimes you’ll actually fire the client. That’s okay, too.
The goal is to do great work for people you like. And you can’t do either if you’re arguing.

What Committees Do

Our friend at Graphicology is redesigning the flags of the United States on his blog. This post gives a brief and interesting history on the Arkansas flag. He shows how this…

Became this…

Someone needed to add a fourth star so one group wouldn’t be offended. And, of course, the name of the state had to be prominent in case couldn’t figure out which state the flag belonged to. It’s pretty amusing to see that we’re not the only ones who’ve had clients giving their suggestions and mandates to clutter up clean design.

"Because I’m the Client."

There will be multiple times in your career when the client does not go with the agency recommend. They’ll choose another director. A different illustrator. The execution they feel a little more comfortable with, even though the one you’re recommending is all but guaranteed to get you a Lion at Cannes and have the country tweeting about their business.

To be fair, agencies should always be prepared for this. If we don’t show bad work, our clients can’t buy bad work. But sometimes we have a campaign, or director or promotional partner we’re just dying to work with. And the client chooses the runner up. Or the runner up to the runner up. Ideally, we’d be happy with that. Because if it’s on the rail, it’s for sale.

But there might be times when the agency pushes back just a little. “Really? Are you sure you want to go with that campaign? Can you tell us why?”

A good client, who sees the agency as a partner will explain themselves. Even if they’re not very clear, they’ll try. “I just feel more comfortable with this director because he’s got a lot more experience in our category.” Or, “I think this campaign will resonate better with our target market.

But when the response is, “Because I’m the client,” watch out. That’s not too far off from a husband telling his wife to have his supper ready when he comes home from bowling with the guys “because I’m the man in this house.”

“Because I’m the client.”

Those are dangerous words. Because they state the obvious, explain nothing, and are an attempt to put you in (what they perceive to be) in your place.