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Death to the client version

A few reasons why agencies need to respect their clients and be creative enough to create award winning work WITH their clients and stop creating a “client version” and their version.

The fact that designers portfolios and award shows are littered with “agency” versions of campaigns and projects drives me crazy. I don’t support this concept that there is a good “agency” version that was done by the smart people at the agency and a bad “client” version that through client interference was made into a weak and diluted derivative of the what the agency really wanted to do. The reality is that when the TV spot runs, the print ad is produced or the web site goes live consumer only see and your success metric will only be based on the the “client” version so why not make it something you can be proud of.
I have had more than my fair share of difficult, demanding, head strong and even clinically insane clients so I know it isn’t as easy as just saying there should only be one version of any given piece of creative.
I have been able to have a lot of success
The first key is to always get your client sold on a strong concept.  I say this for two reasons.  The first is that it gives you a clear direction and standard that you can use to keep things on track.  This is usually needed the most as the concept goes into production because the client begins to get nervous about if the idea is really good enough, what will their boss think about it and if it will really work.  Those nerves make them start to rethink things and make changes.  That concept will help you weed out a lot of those changes because it is easy to take a first pass through the changes to see if they will support the concept or not.
Second is because if you keep the focus on the concept for the project it takes a lot of the pressure of the actual visual design because the client understand how you are going to meet their challenge
I have always felt it was my job to not just blindly take orders and do their bidding but if I thought their direction wasn’t going to help the final product then I go back to try and understand the reasoning behind the change so I can find a better way to solve the problem we will all be happy with. I have found a lot of success with this because the client knows I am listening to them, they feel like they are part of the solution and I don’t have a concept that gets derailed at the 11th hour.

I need to vent and say that the fact that designers portfolios and award shows are littered with “agency” versions of campaigns drives me crazy. I don’t agree with this thinking that there is a good “agency” version that was done by the smart people at the agency and a bad “client” version that through client interference was made into a weak and diluted derivative of the what the agency really wanted to do. The reality is that when that TV spot runs, that print ad is printed or that website goes live, consumers only see and your success metric will only be based on the “client” version. I think that if the “client” version sucks then it is your fault that you weren’t a good enough salesman to keep them on track. So since you are going to do a ton or work either way why the hell don’t you make it something you can be proud of?

Before everyone goes leaping for the comment box to tell me it isn’t that easy know that I say that having had more than my fair share of difficult, demanding, headstrong, screaming and clinically insane clients so I know it isn’t as easy as just saying there should only be one version and call it a day so here are something to do to keep things on track.

Practice safe design. Use a strategy and concept.

I have written about this before but always get your client sold on a strong strategy and concept.  It gives you a clear direction and standard that you can use to keep things on track after the presentation when the client begins to get nervous about if the idea is really good enough, what will their boss think about it and if it will really work.  Those nerves make them start to rethink things and make nervous changes.  Having that concept that answers their needs will help you weed out a lot of those changes because it is easy to take a pass through the changes to see if they will support the concept or not.

Also, if you keep the focus on the concept for the project and show them how it will answer their business need then it takes a lot of the pressure of the actual visual design. When they don’t see that solution then they try to find it in the visual design and they will tear it shreds looking for it.

Don’t follow blindly – Listen and find a reason to make the logo bigger.

If you work for me you know that it’s not your job to not just blindly take orders and do the clients bidding. It is the job of every designer that if you get feedback that isn’t going to help or support the concept then go back to try to understand the reasoning behind the request so you can find a better way to solve the problem we will all be happy with. I have found a lot of success with this because the client knows you are listening to them, they feel like they are part of the solution, we can create a reason for the change to happen and I don’t have a concept that gets derailed at the 11th hour.

Embrace changes from everywhere.

We all know that change is a core part of the creative process. When a creative director tells you to fix something in a comp it is changing. When you rewrite a TV script it is changing. But when a client tells you to alter something then change takes on a different and negative connotation. I this happens because it is input that is external to the creative group so it isn’t accepted in the same way. It’s critical that you alter your process so all change is looked upon equally and, like I said above, you find ways to make those changes make sense in the concept so you keep your concept on track.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The last part of this whole process is the unspoken power struggle for trust and respect that is at the root of all of this.  When you present the work you are in control. Things go well if your client respects and trusts you then they will trust your vision for the project so the final result is produced to your vision.  If they don’t trust you then after the presentation they will take over control and show you no respect by dictating changes, tell you how to change the concept and doing your job for you. When this happens you have to find a way to regain control of the project and build up that client respect or you will find yourself in situations time after time where you weren’t in control of the creative direction but you will be held responsible for the results. I have an article I wrote a while back that goes into more detail on the issue and is a good read if you are having issues in this area.

I think that if you try to make this change and change the mentality of your creative group then you will not only have to no longer create two version of every project but you will see happier clients who get better and more effective work.

1 Comment

  1. LC David

    April 24, 2010 at 4:56 am

    This is really an interesting post….
    Thank you for sharing it here…..Net Web Service

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Creative Director, Designer, Brand Builder, Speaker, Podcaster, Crazy One. As a designer, I have 20+ years experience creating the strategy, concepts, and designs for award-winning integrated global advertising campaigns, building multiple global Fortune 500 brands and creating innovative digital experiences. As a leader, I have 15+ years transforming agency and client-side teams using a mix of creativity, business strategy, process and political skill to create innovative, world-class work and cultures that change industries and companies. My clients have included American Airlines, W Hotels, Disney, Citi, ExxonMobil, Acura, Old Navy, Nationwide Insurance, Verizon, Subaru and many others. My work has received over 150 international awards, my app designs have been named as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Apps, Apple has featured my work in 9 keynotes, 4 TV commercials and more.

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