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Why good ideas will turn your clients into tiny drug addicts

A few insights into why clients always want more changes than they need and a few tricks to deal with them.

I get the same question emailed to me over and over again – Do you have any advice for dealing with clients who constantly have problems and changes? It a complicated solution but part of the answer to the problem is like the headline says because you are making your clients into little drug addicts and you don’t even know it. Before you think that I’ve finally gone over the edge – let me explain.

Let’s start by looking at the typical life cycle of any creative project. You get the project from the client, you come up with some concepts to solve the problem, you present those solutions back to the client and then you go build the solution. We can narrow down from there to say that problems with our clients start after the presentation and go until the project is finished. What happens after the presentation that makes this happen?

When you present a good idea to a client they get excited. They get happy. They tell other people about the idea. They put the comps up on the wall of their office. But most importantly they get an endorphin hit from all that excitement and they like the way it feels. It’s different from what they feel in all of their other mundane and repetitive meetings during the day. They like the way it feels so much that they are going to go looking for that feeling (another hit) again as the process goes along. The problem is that after the creative presentations are done they aren’t going to find that feeling again because you go from the creation phase into the production phase. So how do they get another hit? How do they feel that way again? They make changes to the work, no matter how good the idea is, in an attempt to get that rush and feeling of creating something new again. The problem is that making changes during the production phase is that it is the worst possible time to do it because it creates a lot of re-work and added expense.

So how do you give them that hit they are looking for and keep control of your idea and project?

Give them a road map

The best thing is to let your client know what the road ahead is going to look like and walk them through your process so they know aren’t going to get that feeling again until the end of the process when they see the finished product. You should also explain what their involvement will be along the way with timing and milestones. It gives you something to manage to and something you can refer back to if the client starts getting restless and wants to make changes looking for that hit.

Mock-ups, prototypes and ripomatics

If you have a client who really needs that hit of new creative to get them through, then you need to build a bridge between the hit they get from the energy and optimism of the creative presentation and the next hit they will get from seeing the final finished version of the concept. It’s a balancing act that means you need to show them more work or include them in some part of the process so they feel like they are contributing and creating the end result with you. Each medium presents its own challenges for how to get this done and how to strike that balance between control and inclusion. For print work, I create mock-ups so they can see the ad in a real newspaper, magazine or mock-up of the final produced version.  For digital work I will either create prototypes so they can see the comps come to life or try to include them in the process for things like user testing so they get a hit from seeing the work in a new form and have a check-in point that they are good with the executional direction before we get too far down the road. For broadcast work I use a similar approach to what I do for digital by either creating animatics or ripomatics of the storyboards or including them in the process for things like VO session. I think all of these work because it gives your client a new thing they can show around the office and makes them feel like an insider who is getting to see the final work before the rest of the world.

Obviously, this isn’t true for everyone and there are clients who just want to make changes to flex their power and make themselves feel like there is control but take a new look at your problem clients and maybe you will see them in a new light.  Maybe their constant changes are a twisted compliment to the quality of your ideas and the fact that they want more of them.

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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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