A Client is a Client is a Client

At the end of the day, we’re in the interpretation business. In many cases, good design is a sign of how well a client and agency work together. I can almost envision the behind-the-scenes interactions that went on to land at the end results. And I’m willing to bet my girls’ college tuitions that the most successful designs are the result of the agency and the client knowing exactly where each other stands.

Rick Barrack, Chief Creative Officer and Founder of CBX, plays out a scenario for you on his personal life experience with clients and gives you five tips in how to avoid the "WTF" moments.

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Okay, here’s the scenario:

Wife wants to redecorate the bedroom, complete with hardwood floors, wallpaper and furniture. Thinking of summer camp tuition for my two girls (not to mention their eventual college tuitions), I quote the immortal Tom Waits: “Let’s put a new coat of paint on this lonesome old town.” Bickering ensues, we call a truce, and I ring the contractor. Explain the general vibe we’re going for. Ask him to bring us some paint samples.

So I’m all “WTF?” when he shows up a few days later with three samples in varying shades of blue: navy, cobalt and robin’s egg. And they are in an eggshell finish, not the flat we’d wanted.

“Dude,” I say, motioning to the paints.

“What?”

“I hate blue.”

“Oh. Sorry. You didn’t say that.”

And that’s when it hit me: For a guy who spends his days trying to meet his client’s objectives, I completely forgot to provide my contractor with a clear creative brief, as we say in our business. Here I thought I was communicating my wants, when I’d obviously underestimated the details I’d provided during our conversation. The guy’s not a mind reader, so he did what he thought was right – anticipated my preferences – and told me what he thought would look best. Which was NOT what we were expecting – and actually pretty ballsy.

How many times have clients thought the very same way about design work presented to them by an agency? And how many brand managers, marketing VPs and CEOs have sat across from creative directors like myself and wondered, “Why couldn’t they make the package XX like we wanted, instead of YY?”

So there I was, having my second “WTF?” moment of the day. Because I’m definitely guilty of providing new ideas in a phase two presentation, even though the client never asked to see any. Or showing the client black along with the red they asked for. Probably because my personal philosophy is: Give them what they ask for, give them what they need. I’ll get an understanding of their creative brief so that I can then provide solutions they want as well as a few that maybe they haven’t thought of before. The riskiest proposition you can encounter is “change for change’s sake,” regardless of the clients’ personal preferences and business challenges. We need to listen to what’s been asked for and then deliver what we think is best.

At the end of the day, we’re in the interpretation business. In many cases, good design is a sign of how well a client and agency work together. I can almost envision the behind-the-scenes interactions that went on to land at the end results. And I’m willing to bet my girls’ college tuitions that the most successful designs are the result of the agency and the client knowing exactly where each other stands.

Here are five fundamentals for clients and agencies to consider so they can avoid a “WTF” moment:

1. Meet face-to-face.

Had my contractor and I met in person to discuss what I wanted, there would have been little-to-no room for misinterpretation.

2. Play-it-back.

After telling my contractor what I wanted, I should have made sure that he heard me, loud and clear, so that we were on the same page. After all, not everyone hears things the same way. It’s important to ask as many questions as you need to in order to reach a solution. (head nodding is the critical sign. . . Is everyone saying the same thing)

3. Trust them.

I hired my contractor for a reason – I should have trusted that any recommendation he made was considered and professional. Same goes for clients and agencies. Agencies may give you something different from what you asked for, but you can rest assured it is the result of thoughtful consideration.

4. Think macro, not micro.

I may not like the color blue provided to me by my contractor but separating one’s own personal taste is critical to success.

5. Don’t be too prescriptive.

While we want a brief to be tight, you also want to have the freedom to be able to interpret that brief in creative ways. In retrospect, I should have left the door open a little so my contractor didn’t feel too confined, and had enough leeway to flex his muscle.

For your information, we ended up painting the bedroom grey, though I’m happy to say that a shade of blue was one of our Top Three choices. In the process, I learned two important lessons. #1: Always make your wife happy (while spending the least amount of money possible). And #2: Whenever you’re about to say “WTF?” to anyone – a contractor, a client, your kid – make sure you’ve been crystal clear in your expectations of them.

RickBarrack.jpg
RickBarrack.jpg

About Rick Barrack

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Rick is the Chief Creative Officer and a founding partner of brand agency CBX. With twenty years of expertise in consumer and retail branding, Rick is responsible for inspiring, directing and motivating creative teams to develop powerful design solutions.

Rick was chosen as one of Graphic Design USA's ‚"People to Watch‚" in 2010, and FastCompany‚ "100 Most Creative People in Business 2012."