You're Just Not That Important

After you win your Dream Client and make a whole bunch of money, buy your team a 24k MacBook complete with diamond logo.

After you win your Dream Client and make a whole bunch of money, buy your team a 24k MacBook complete with diamond logo.

We all need clients to pay us for doing work. We all want good clients who appreciate us. So, as I read this little gem in AdAge, it gave me pause for thought.

I have worked on both sides – agency and client – and something is terribly wrong on both sides.

I’ve been on the client side:

Clients are jerks, they hold the purse strings, demand more faster, then ask you to cut the budget while they art direct the creative into a P.O.S., and run over the budget (of which you probably planned to give them more anyway).

Clients are disorganized.  They know when Christmas (every year), Memorial Day (name all the annual holidays) and CES 2014 is. They don’t get around to doing things until . . .

Whoa! It’s Thanksgiving! I need a holiday campaign!

There’s little planning coming from the Veeps who walk the halls of our hallowed clients marketing departments.

Even the big ones.

They’re too busy. Marketing.

I’ve been on the agency side:

Agencies are insecure. We have an RFP, all hands on deck! It’s due in (name your extremely stupid timeframe here). Each team must develop creative in a week, present internally, and one selection goes forward (or maybe two because the Creative Director wants to see how things play out).

We want this client on our roster! We’ll get more X business!

Nights, weekends and holidays are out. Move out (guaranteed, paid) client projects!

Work hard and fast so we can WIN!

Spend hard cash on prep and traveling to the pitch.

Be stupid.

Now, it was lovely to read that Shane Atchison, CEO of Possible chose to tell the prospective client NO – we won’t work over the holiday (and then still get the opportunity to pitch at a later date). But Shane has that giant holding company behind him – as well as other things (reputation, reach, or could it be creative?) that made the client rethink the RFP deadline.

Not all of us have that luxury. Especially when you’re a smaller, independent agency. Every dollar counts. Really.

So we must pick our battles – or RFPs – carefully.

Preparing to pitch a Dream Client quickly becomes a nightmare when – not only trying to cover the costs associated to the pitch, but what about the work in progress that’s set aside, coupled with working your teams until they’re bleary-eyed – you realize that that piece of business won’t pay for the time and effort you just “invested”.

And please, never say that giving work away for free is an investment.

You just did a whole bunch of stuff for free.

And I’ll bet you didn’t track how many employee hours went into the RFP either.

This is the cost of new business.  

Or a Dreamy New Client.

A client is truly dreamy when they appreciate your agency – for the creative and for the people who make it.

Otherwise, they just aren’t that important. They’re just . . . expensive.

Be smart in 2014. Evaluate what a client brings to your agency

Quit Your Damn Lying

I can’t even believe I’m saying this. Quit your damn lying. You know who you are – the driven, talented creatives and strategists who offer up to a client – “sure, we'll get that to you today” – and you haven’t checked to see if there is anyone available to get that revision done, and it’s just a quick fix anyway, and you’ll just go to the designer and sit over their shoulder while they ‘knock it out.’

For only $25.95 you can get this shirt from Zazzle to wear to client meetings. 

For only $25.95 you can get this shirt from Zazzle to wear to client meetings. 

Or perhaps you go into a client meeting with absolutely no idea how much that awesome creative will cost to produce and say, “sure, we can do that for ten-dollars apiece” – because you’re too arrogant to accept the fact that the client had a ten-dollars-apiece budget, but they should never do anything that cheap because it – in your opinion – doesn’t fit the “brand.” Then you get to do it all over again, and you wasted a big chunk of time chasing your dream to get in CA.

Give me a break. It makes everyone look like idiots. You are not a hero for giving your client something on a RUSH, especially when they didn’t even ask for it right away. You are certainly not a hero for presenting something to a client they cannot – or will not – pay for.

Get the client excited for amazing and fast, then give them mediocrity.

I have seen this happen repeatedly in agencies and marketing departments. There is no excuse for lying… except for the fact that the individuals who lie have no spine, no ability to be creative on a budget, no idea how to work with a client, do not care about the agency as a business, and actually think they know better than everyone else.

Those people are not talented, driven, creative or strategic.

Those people cost your agency tons – in time, money and reputation.

Those people have tiny. little. balls.


Doing Work For Free – Unexpectedly

I just read this piece in AdAge about a web designer who got stiffed on a project.

Has that happened to you?

Okay, in retaliation, this guy took over the client’s website and aired his issues. One section here caught my eye. Well actually, it’s pretty glaring if you’ve been in business a while

“Give a barren advance, rake up a huge bill and ignore every invoice. Rush fees, heavy overtime and weekend work are expected to be free.
You don't get to sleep for days on end, but you do get to wait on your money forever.
It's people like this who cause company after company to go bankrupt.”

Well, whether this guy was legit, or performed badly, there’s a lesson here. And it seems from the comments in AdAge, independent web designers/developers just aren’t getting it.

What it is…good business sense.

I was a freelance designer and illustrator for years. And yes, I got stiffed. More than once.

But I learned.

What is good inside an agency or an in-house marketing department is good for the individual entrepreneur – you must consider it a business. This isn’t some hobby to fill time.

It doesn't matter where you work or what your role is, you have to take into consideration the scope, budget and timeline. And it has to be in writing. And signed-off by the client.

This is so bloody basic I can’t believe I’m saying it. But the parameters of scope, budget and timeline in the creative business are repeatedly ignored.

It’s not just a CEO or partner who should be watching the books – it should be every individual.

So, little one-person-operation, hear this: Get scope in writing. Provide an estimate and get it signed-off – and make sure payment terms are clear. Provide a timeline and stick to it. AND clarify what constitutes a chargeable change and what doesn’t.

If you receive payments incrementally, make sure they’re on time. And be prepared to stop work if the client does not pay. You are not a bank. Here’s a nice little read about sunk costs. You know, you put so much into a project that you think you should keep going.

You are a fool – whether agency or independent – to keep working for a client if you do not get paid.

Send that deadbeat client on a hike, don’t give them assets, and don’t let it get to the point where you’re nuking bridges.

Setting Expectations With Your Client

This week’s theme is - Expectations. We should always set expectations – for every step – for everything we do in an agency. Pretty simple – right?

Since most jobs start with the client, we’ll talk about setting expectations with them.

You have an established relationship with your client. That means over the course of time you have either trained your client to demand and get, or to ask and receive. Yes, we train our clients – through our actions.

Demand and get – no scope, budget, and the timeline is immediate. You react. The project (or change) is costly, prone to mistakes, and no one is really happy with the outcome. You bend, and the client requires you bend even more. And because you just said 'okay, I'll do that' they don't expect to pay more for that additional work.

Ask and receive – agreement on scope, deliverables, cost and a reasonable timeline (as in, let me check to make sure when we can deliver it). Then you confirm with your staff, and get back to the client with a clearly defined solution. You’re not bent this way and that, and the client – from experience working with you – knows that your word is good.

Never over-promise and under-deliver. But you know that already.

And that’s what setting – and sticking to – expectations with clients is all about. Everyone wins.

Now I’m well aware that there are times where you have to jump on something. There’s an error. There’s a huge unexpected opportunity. Yep, those things do take precedence – while taking into consideration everything else that’s on everyone’s to-do lists.

But in the day-to-day, if you’re the AE who is always pushing through jobs because your client is relentlessly demanding – you have an expensive problem to fix.

If your client doesn’t accept expectations, it’s time to take a close look at the cost of serving that client. You should be tracking everything, because that provides the measurement to determine if they are worth keeping. And if not, that data is your ammunition to fire them.

Keep in mind that cost is more than dollars – demanding clients burn out your staff, overload resources and wreak havoc on morale. Or worse, become such a joke that no one cares and turn out crap. You don’t want to be remembered for crap – do you?

As an AE, you need to take stock in your ability to control clients. Facing difficult clients can suck the life out of your soul. It doesn’t have to be like that.

You can be pleasant, and stick to a specific set of rules. If those rules – which are expectations – are agreed at the beginning of the relationship, you’ll both know what it takes to do business – together.

Fortunately, most clients are great partners. Once established, you both know what you need to give in order to get.

But when your client is running you (and your agency) ragged, it’s time to pull-back, have a frank discussion and set expectations.

You need rules. Or it’s unfair. To everyone in your agency.  

Because, your entire agency pays for the clients who demand and get more than you planned to deliver. So be clear about expectations – you’ll make more money and life will be much easier.