How NOT to be a client from hell
“Be present. Pay attention. Listen. Make the agency feel valued. Recognise their time and effort. The meeting/mailer/presentation/poster might be a single bullet, way down on your to-do list, but for them it’s the whole list.” This perfectly sums up Anelde’s take on how to be a great client. Presented in an entertaining way, you’ll want to take notes while reading this one.
The other day someone reminded me of Clients From Hell the blog dedicated to agencies and freelancers sharing stories of the “torture and abuse” they endure on a daily basis. It started in 2009 and is not quite as amazing as I remembered (why does everyone have to commercialise their blogs?), but the stories are still hair-raising. Asking an agency to convert a video to PDF? Supplying a logo via fax? Requesting closed eyes look open? It’s all there. Hilarious, ridiculous, insane. And sadly true.
I rediscovered the blog around the same time I started a relationship with a new agency.
Disclaimer: For most of my career I was on the “Yes, I will gladly ask our art director to make the logo 2,73% bigger” or “No, we don’t mind taking onboard the feedback from your 10-year-old next-door neighbour” side of things, but more recently I have been on the brand side and occasionally had decent budget to spend on (amazing) freelancers and agencies.
To be honest, I was a little nervous about being The New Client. The agencies I’ve been working with for the past few years have all been with me, well, for the past few years, so they know me, my team and our brand. And after so many times around the block together, I’ve become a bit lazy and complacent. No need to try to impress anyone, no need for overly well-crafted feedback and definitely no need to worry that I will be seen as From Hell.
It got me thinking about this important relationship of client and agency. Who is actually from hell? Is it the one making the demands or the one supplying the work?
The more I thought about this complicated, necessary, inevitable relationship, the more it struck me how similar it is to the relationship between parent and toddler. Requests, negotiations, threats, tears… it’s all there.
So does that mean that giving someone advice on being a great client is a bit like giving parenting advice? Yes, yes it does.
Mindfulness is a thing
Just as mindful parenting is a trend, so too is mindful clienting. (Yes, I just made up that word, but any parent will tell you that creativity is your most important skill, and language and grammar is but a guideline when it comes to toddlers). Be present. Pay attention. Listen. Make the agency feel valued. Recognise their time and effort. The meeting/mailer/presentation/poster might be a single bullet, way down on your to-do list, but for them it’s the whole list.
It’s all in the brief
If you allow your toddler to dress herself, you can’t be upset if she goes to school in her swimsuit, slippers and her brother’s Superman cape. You probably should have made a suggestion around suitable attire. Same goes for an agency. Give them a vague – or worse, none – brief and you can expect to be disappointed or underwhelmed.
Closely related to setting boundaries (and sticking to them), consistency is vital in creating a mutually-beneficial relationship with your agency. Everyone knows how things work, who does what and when, and why they can’t have juice just before bedtime tonight.
Don’t repeat yourself
You know how sometimes your agency just refuses to add the full logo? Even when you’ve asked 17 times? Stop repeating yourself. Stop asking the same thing in the same way. Not everyone hears things the same. Find a different way of saying it, preferably sharing some of your motivation or thinking. Better yet, use an “I…” message. As in, “I worry that people will be unsure of the brand behind the message” instead of “Put the logo in the bottom left corner”.
Pick your battles
Don’t have a meltdown if the URL in the mock-up has a typo in it. The poor art director that had to change the layout 37 times in half a day because you couldn’t commit to a “vibe” can’t be expected to be a proofreader too. Just like the three-year-old with a black pen that mistook her baby sister’s arm for a piece of paper.
Don’t underestimate praise
Hitting sales targets and winning industry awards are not enough. Verbal personal positive feedback goes a long way. And make kids and creatives alike, thrive.
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve got any more tips to add to this list. Good luck and go be the greatest client you can be.
Anelde Greeff: Head of Content @ Eat Out.
Words person, wine drinker, and arithmomaniac.