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.


This Post Isn’t Cool

You will never sell anything to a client by telling them, “It’s cool.”

Cool is not a reason any client will put their budget and their job on the line. Even if you’re doing ads for the new HALO game, a surfboard, or Porsche. In client parlance, “cool” is not shorthand for “it will sell your product, and make you money, keep your job secure, and maybe even get you an interview in Fast Company.”
Make your work cool. But before you present it, figure out the real reason it’s cool, and sell that.
You’ll not only have more success selling your ideas, you’ll become a better presenter.

Bring the Brief

This might seem like a small point to post about, but I think it’s important. When you go to a meeting to present creative, bring the strategic brief along. Ideally, you should set up your work using the brief, but at least have it with you.

Inevitably, the creative director, or account person or the CLIENT will ask to be reminded what the net takeaway on the brief is. It’s okay to whip the brief out and read it (usually, an account person or planner will be all over this). What doesn’t look so good (and believe me, I’ve seen this happen) is if all the creatives just look at each other, hoping that someone remembers the main thing their work is supposed to communicate. This puts a bullet in the work before it’s even been presented. It says that there’s a good chance your work will be off strategy, because you don’t even know what the damn strategy is.

I tend to lose things easily, so I started making a 3/4-sized photocopy of the brief and pasting it in my sketchbook. That way I always know where I can find it quickly. Just in case.

Revising Your Creative Concept Without Ruining It

I can’t think of any time in my career where I went into a meeting, presented work and had no revisions to make coming out. How you handle feedback and present revisions can be a make-or-break step in the process. Over-react to a off-handed client comment and you can unnecessarily water down or complicate your work. Ignore client concerns and you might come across as unresponsive and torpedo the whole project.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you run the revision gauntlet:


1) Listen to feedback. Take notes. Some creatives like to come in, look cool, present the work, then leave. But the most important part of a client relationship is listening. And unless you have a photographic memory, take out a pen and paper. After the meeting, there will be discussions about what exactly the client said and it’s good to have your own notes.
Note all of the feedback, even from the junior clients. If there are pertinent quotes from clients, write them down (and note who said them). Nothing lets a client know you listened more than, a week or two later, being able to quote them in a meeting, or being able to say that something they said led you to a solution (this does happen).

2) Make sure you understand which feedback needs to be addressed. Depending on the client, many many people may throw out thoughts. Some of it will be overruled, some of it will be ignored by the group, some of it will be irrelevant, and some of it will be very very important. What you need to be absolutely clear on is which issues you will be addressing with your revisions. A good account person will sum up the feedback at the end of the meeting. If they don’t, you should verify what was agreed upon. “So, what I heard was…” or “Just to be clear, for next steps we’ll…”

3) Try to avoid executional feedback by understanding the issues. Good clients know that the most helpful feedback for an agency is issue-based rather than executional, but even the most seasoned client will make executional comments from time to time. For example, “I feel like the tone is too frivolous for our brand,” is an issue. “I don’t like the words “itty-bitty” is executional. “The spot feels rushed” is an issue. “Take out this shot, that shot, and that shot,” is executional. You want to get issue-based feedback because there may be several ways to solve an issue, whereas something like “take out that shot” has only one solution and may not be the best for the spot.

4) If you disagree, discuss it. (This has the major caveat of “if you are in a position to do so.” If you are a junior creative and your creative director has already agreed to a client request, you are not in a position to voice a dissenting opinion. Nor are you, if you’re a junior creative, in a position to argue with a CEO). Be clear that you’re in a different place, but avoid being too confrontational. I don’t even like saying things like “One could argue that…” That positions it as an argument. Client meetings, though they may sometimes seem like it, are not debates. You’re on the same team.
One non-confrontational phrase that can be very helpful is, “Help me understand…” to probe the client issues. Phrasing your point-of-view as a question, or simply explaining why you made the choices you did are also good ways to make a point without seeming combative.

5) Know what’s worth fighting for. If your list is “everything,” you’re going to have a tough time. Some things aren’t worth fighting for. Then there are some that are. If you feel strongly that a change completely compromises the integrity of the creative, speak up. And as a last resort, recommend that you take the creative off the table and go try a different approach completely.

6) It’s okay to say “Let me think about it.”
It’s an easy trap to fall into to think that you need to solve an issue at the table, or that you need to decide if a suggestion will or won’t work right there on the spot. Reserve the right to walk away and take the time to think of an appropriate solution. Clients should respect this.


7) Make sure you addressed your client’s concerns. This is a no-brainer. Just double-check before the meeting. It’s not pretty when you don’t.

8) If you find a better way, STILL make sure you address your client’s concerns.
This goes for suggestions from your creative director in pre-client meetings as well. If you agree to a revision, DO NOT come to the next meeting without making it. If you get specific executional direction, you’d best follow it. If you come up with an alternative solution, bring that IN ADDITION TO (but definitely not instead of) the agreed-upon revision. Then you can have a discussion about it.

9) Let the client know you heard their concerns. Set up the work by listing what the objectives of the revisions were. What issues did you address? This is the part where your notes from the first meeting come in handy. If one client had a concern, let them know that you made a revision for them. If necessary, explain how you addressed their concerns before you go through the work.

Revisions are a part of the business, so learn how to handle them. They’re not necessarily a bad thing, but you have to know how to fend off the ducks or your brilliant idea might get pecked to death. The key is to keep bringing back great work each time. If you do that, you’ll only produce great work.


I’m working on another spot that consists mostly of animation and computer-generated imagery. I’ve done this a few times in my career, and each time I’m reminded of how different a beast it can be from the normal production process. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really fun process and allows you to do some things you never could with live action, but it can be really frustrating if you don’t have your ducks in a line, or if everyone doesn’t understand how the process works.

Animation is like building a building. Each step depends on the previous steps. If you get to the fifth floor and decide you don’t like the first floor, you have to tear the whole thing down. For example, let’s say you’re animating a cartoon character onto a shot with a live-action person. On Monday you and your client approve the edit, basically saying you like a certain take of the live-action person. Then the animators start the rough animation process. They work all week on it. Then on Friday, the client changes their mind and decides that they’re not crazy about the look on the live-action person’s face and want another take in there. You’ve just lost a week.

This is a pretty common scenario, and it makes agencies, animators, and probably everyone else want to pull their hair out. Here’s a few tips for how to avoid this:

1) Prepare the client. In one regard, YOU are the client, so you must prepare yourself as well. Along with your creative director. And your client client. It’s worth having a meeting up front that walks through how the animation process works and emphasizes that once a decision is made, you can’t go back. Use the building analogy. And repeat every meeting, “After we decide this, we can’t go back.”

2) Manage expectations. Animation is about baby steps. There are no big “wow” moment, because each time you see something, it’s only changed a little since you saw it last. Keep this in mind, and make sure the client knows this. You will come a very long way from start to finish, but the process is one step at a time.

3) Be crystal clear what’s being decided with each meeting. There are a ton of potential disractions with each review of the cut. At the beginning of the meeting, make sure it’s clear what everyone is looking at. If they’re judging just the animation of the fish, kindly remind everyone to focus on just the fish when they ask if the clouds in the background are finished. The fish is the only thing that exists.

4) Make sure everyone is speaking the same language. Odds are, your client doesn’t know a wireframe model from a model airplane. Make sure you have a grasp of the process, then break it down for them in their terms. Use analogies (this is like the studs of the house, and this is like the drywall, etc.). Or get the animation company to help break it down for you. Just make sure everyone is talking about the same thing.

5) Make sure the decision-makers have the power to make the decisions. This is the big one. One client might be okay with something, but their boss isn’t. Or their boss’s boss. Or the CEO. It doesn’t matter. Whoever the decision-maker is going to be, they need to be involved when the decision is made. Get them in the room, or find some way to get a rough cut in front of them.

6) Be patient. You’re asking people to imagine a lot. There will be indecision. There will be a lot of questions, and a lot of what you might consider hand-holding. Just expect this. Be clear, be patient, and be organized. If you do all these things, it’ll help everything run more smoothly.

Lessons from the Master

I’ve been reading bits and pieces of The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, and recently came across this story:

In 1502, in Florence, Italy, an enormous block of marble stood in the works department of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore. It had once been a magnificent piece of raw stone, but an unskilled sculptor had mistakenly bored a hole through it where there should have been a figure’s legs, generally mutilating it…So, despite the money that had been wasted on it, it gathered dust in the dark halls of the church.

This was where things stood until some Florentine friends of the great Michelangelo decided to write to the artist, then living in Rome…Michelangelo traveled to Florence, examined the stone, and came to the conclusion that he could in fact carve a figure from it, by adapting the pose to the way the rock had been mutilated. Soderini [the mayor of Florence] argued that this was a waste of time—nobody could salvage such a disaster—but he finally agreed to let the artist work on it…

Weeks later, as Michelangelo was putting the final touches on the statue, Soderini entered the studio. Fancying himself a bit of a connoisseur, he studied the huge work and told Michelangelo that while he thought it was magnificent, the nose, he judged, was too big. Michelangelo realized that Soderini was standing in a place right under the giant figure and did not have the proper perspective. Without a word, he gestured for Soderini to follow him up the scaffolding. Reaching the nose, he picked up his chisel, as well as a bit of marble dust that lay on the planks. With Soderini just a few feet below him on the scaffolding, Michelangelo started to tap lightly with the chisel, letting the bits of dust he had gathered in his hand to fall little by little. He actually did nothing to change the nose, but gave every appearance of working on it. After a few minutes of this charade, he stood aside. “Look at it now.”

“I like it better,” replied Soderini. “You’ve made it come alive.”

The statue was Michelangelo’s David. And there are a few very applicable things to take away from this story.

1) The first is a lesson in diplomacy. As Greene points out, arguing with a man like Soderini would have earned Michelangelo nothing and perhaps endangered future commissions.

2) Michelangelo worked with what he had. He worked “inside the box,” as Ernie Schenk might say. To bring this down to the level of what we do, if you know, in your TV spot, you have to show a big product shot and have someone say “Wow! This magic lotion sure does make my legs feel younger!” try starting there and building the spot around it.

3) Perspective is everything.

Why I Am Strong

As has been written before, it’s a lie that the client is the enemy. Most clients are smart, thoughtful, and want great work because they want their brand to be great.

That said, as a holiday treat, here are a few of my favorite client quotes I’ve collected over the years.

  • I would not aim for solving the problems we have to solve.
  • It’s one thing to show a towel. It’s another thing to celebrate its essence.
  • I don’t want to use the word “improved” because it will make our new product look better than our old product.
  • We don’t have time to tell stories.
  • I hate it. I think it’s crap.
  • Oh, I wish I had the guts to run that.
  • You know I’m not a lesbian, don’t you?