How to Be the Best Client in the World

I love clients. Couldn’t live without them. But since my “Creative Brief” article appeared on the site, I’ve heard from many of you asking, “Yeah, a great creative brief is fine, but if the client doesn’t stick to it, what good does it do?”

That really got me thinking. I took out my magic wand and created a wish list on “How to be the best client in the world.” Here’s what I came up with:

  • Trust us. Please don’t second-guess everything we propose. Of course it’s your money, but if you hired us, you must have liked something about us. Give us a chance to do great work. We don’t go to your office and tell you how to manufacture widgets. Respect our experience and talent, and you’ll have a loyal partner for years.

  • Most of us went to advertising school, not Psychic University. If there’s a specific direction you’d like your company to be moving toward, please let us know. Allow us to probe, ask questions, and generally be a pest until you give us enough solid information to do great work. If you’re not clear about your goals, your advertising will reflect it.
  • What art school did you go to? Do you know the difference between PMS 123 and 124? Our art guys do. There’s usually a strong reason we chose the colors we did. Ask us and challenge us, but understand that there is a reason for each choice. Saying, “Could you make it blue?” without a compelling reason slows down the process.
  • Can you write your name? Then you must be a copywriter! This is for all my fellow scribes out there: Have you ever sent a copy deck around and had it come back clean? Of course not. Because people took an English class, they’re automatically copywriters. Instead of making the copy deck (or electronic file) look like a sea of red, compile your comments on one sheet of paper, and let us fix it. That’s what we do.
  • Deadlines, shmedlines. How many times have you put together a schedule and had to change it — with the quality still expected to be great — because the client needs it faster than expected? Well, unless we can change the time and space continuum, something has to give. And it’s usually our family time. Respect the time that your agency is working on a project, and you’ll get much better work.

    I once heard about a copywriter who was so angry she inserted some interesting ideas about what the client could do with his changes into a mouse-type diatribe. Although most of her ideas were physically impossible to execute, it was good that the internal proofreader caught the diatribe first.

  • We want to present our work to the decision-maker. Don’t play ego games with us. If you are the person who is making the decision, you are the person we want to present to. Don’t put us in front of Kippy the intern and expect him to pass on what we had in mind.
  • Pay us. Sounds funny, but some clients forget that this is part of the process. Don’t be late paying us and then expect quality work to continue.
  • Treat us like a partner, not a vendor. If you are used to keeping your agency at arm’s length, you may be missing out on some valuable information. Not only are we experts in our respective areas within the advertising field, but we know other people who can help you. Remember, we got into advertising because we’re extroverts and know how to network.

Obviously, as advertising professionals, we need to hold up our end of the bargain. Here are a few quick ideas on what we can do to ensure a smooth relationship with clients:

  • Underpromise and overdeliver. A clichi? Yes, but it’s true.

  • Who is really doing the client’s work? Do you pitch a new client with your most talented staff members, then relegate the account to the “less adept” members of your group? That’s shoddy.
  • Keep the client informed. Make sure you have an extranet set up so you can post status reports, comps, and any other relevant material.
  • Respect the client. Remember, even your worst client is putting food on your table.
  • Keep the arrogance to a minimum. If you haven’t yet gotten through your “I wear all black and I’m deep and complex” stage, please do so soon. You’re not much good to anyone if you’re the agency prima donna, and nobody can stand working with you. Remember, talented jerks are still jerks.
  • You work in a small town. Even when I worked in New York, I knew people at agencies all over the city. Nothing is secret in advertising, so don’t burn your bridges. If you can’t be anonymous in Manhattan, think about your town.

Please let me know what you think of these ideas. Add to these lists by emailing me at peter@stickyideas.com. Next week I’ll revisit the creative brief! Your passionate comments and suggestions are coming…

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