When I was at Universal Studios Television, I worked closely with our internal “creative” department producers, website developers and marketing agencies to develop breakout websites, flash sites, internet games, promotions sites and all the “fin-de-siècle” (turn of the century) circa ’99 / ’00 online gadgets.
I remember learning then the critical role of translating our marketing department’s campaign needs and communicating with creative types. My goal: Throw down your charm and create positive vibes with friendly communication to get people to want to work with you and encourage collaboration.
– Being Friendly ALWAYS to establish a really nice rapport
Not because you’re going to ask them a favor down the line, but because it’s what your mother taught you, part of being a good person.
– Being Open to all players on the team.
I treated everyone as if they were someone. Yesterday’s assistant is tomorrow’s manager. This mailroom / office runner can later be a future team member to develop the next Facebook. For me, making friends IS always fun. Getting into the six degrees of people you get exposed to interesting fact (i.e. the CFO is a total rockstar with gigs at Genghis Cohen, or the quiet subdued accountant is actually a successful published author, Or that assistant is the babysitter to Bruce Springsteen’s kids (all true stories), etc.).
– Being Nice in the sandbox
We’re all part of the same team with common goals; make each other look good is primary; much like in professional sports, there is no I in Team (although yes you can cross the I to get the T, but it’s a perpendicular type relationship, a crossroads for you decide – to the left of the T is you solo and the right is the “eam”!
– Being Human
Being compassionate towards other people; by being kind & compassionate you know that everyone has a bad day or has hidden personal issues they’re going thru.
– Being Kind (even when you are right);
Asking open ended questions like “what do you think our next steps should be?” vs “what are you going to do to fix it?”
– Being Assertive
Does not mean you aren’t firm, it means less aggressive with requests,
less emotionally charged, more cool, calm & collected.
Now after running my own marketing & PR agency for the past 15 years, I can see both sides of the relationship well (the client and the vendor). While I remember feeling constantly frustrated with agencies responsible for creative development and not understanding why my changes couldn’t be done within a few hours or that day. Why 30-60 day windows for website development? This stuff seems pretty simple and easy to implement right?
And of course there is the infamous “THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT” attitude that I once had (my mantra for four years in sales at Xerox in Century City). Well folks, when you are on the other side in the creative seat, turns out, it’s not always easy and fast.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR CLIENT
1. Set the agenda.
To collaborate with creative types best you have to set the agenda and request structure that works for BOTH of you. Meeting live vs Skype vs conference call vs email only vs combo deal. Take a hit for the team if you know meeting face to face will reduce miscommunication and misunderstandings. Skype is great face to face interaction for introduction meetings, but not always for production obstacles. Do what you need to do. Push on thru. Set your sights on positive vibrations, building consensus, getting agreement on good mutually-beneficial solutions, and overcoming obstacles.
2. Agree on communication styles and preferences.
Do you prefer “development” emails or just the final ONE email summarizing all issues in page form? Phone only for brief discussions and email for lengthy content approvals? Everyone has a different communication style, but there is always a BRIDGE for common ground – Find the path!
3. Define the bottom line.
In my experience, some clients say “less is more” yet they want the transparency of knowing everything. ASK for what YOU WANT! (designers, respect that!!!)
4. Everything boils down to expectations.
Make sure that things are really clear… from the deliverables in your agreement however informal they may be, to the expectations behind progress payments…. actually expectations about what constitutes FINISHED PRODUCT is important, and what is “normally” included is understood differently. WRITE IT ALL DOWN. Reiterate live meetings/conversations in the form of MINUTES from your NOTE TAKING and write it all in an email with “let me make sure we got it right” tone.
5. Mutual respect for production time.
It is mutual for both client & designer to teach the other about how to be respectful of production time and creative investment.
For Clients, not being familiar with technology, website development, creative lingo or not getting your heads around the content development is a challenge for designers. Clarify for understanding. Get second opinions on agreements. Ask questions. Don’t sit back and say you’re the expert. The process is an exploration. Getting it right, means having an open mind and that things can change along the way!
For designers, help your clients find clarity by walking them through a creative process. From Situation Assessment (collecting information about that, clarifying problems, identifying obstacles, clarifying strengths and weaknesses, defining opportunities, repositioning challenges, etc.) to Creative Brief. As the “professional” the client is looking for they rely on your expert opinion, your experienced eye, your vision. Respecting the creative process means that you are honoring the process – asserting and adhering to deadlines & timelines as GUIDE, not dictatorship. 🙂
6. Present VISUAL SOLUTIONS:
– Design production timetable graphic. When in doubt, always produce a graphic with phases, days, months, benchmarks and deadlines
– Or Design an information flow chart graphic – http://broekmancomm.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/bc.WCI_.web-sitemap.d1-010712.jpg
– At times, I opt to include a small budget for build a quick dummy staging website area so they choose pull down menus to understand visually what you are talking about (basic wordpress installation, basic wordpress theme, just create empty pages and launch a menu to help with the client’s need to see something live. Sometimes changes everything!)
6. The “Customer IS Always Right” if you agreed to the terms!
To Designers, think ahead based on your experience and project a budget that you think will be fair knowing the personality and the project demands. Try to find a happy medium between not undercharging and not overcharging. We all find ourselves in underbidding projects, but it’s not fair to blame the client unless they’ve significantly changed the scope of work, list of deliverables or expanded what they wanted. Be clear. Be upfront. Be NICE. Walk them through a “Change Order” discussion. Let them know if things feel like more that what was agreed!
To clients, I understand that not getting a finished product your 100% satisfaction is less than ideal. It will feel that you’ve “wasted all your money” or that you “got nothing” from this. Then the anger trickles in and you get frustrated. Before you go into “I’m not going to pay you” or “I want my money back” mode, take a step back. Review the original agreement. Review the production emails. Make sure that everything is lined up to what you agreed to or NOT, or what the designer promised, but did NOT deliver. Ask the designer to produce a timeline to meet the commitments they agreed to or to confirm their inability to complete so you can make an educated decision. Be fair, but you have to be firm. Good designers aren’t always the best communicators; they’re creative types. But don’t let them wiggle out of being PROFESSIONAL.
Designers, keep your head up. You can’t win them all and please everyone, but you can be a good communicator who acts professionally according to a code of honor & respect. Take on projects you feel are worthy of your time and that fit your abilities. Sure you want to test your limits and expand your toolbox, but do so carefully weighing good intentions and your ability (or best potential) to deliver.
More rants and thoughts coming soon!