As on most days, Seth Godin posted a thought-provoking item on his blog today called, “How to be a great client.”
Because the business I’m in, content marketing and custom media creation and management, is very client service driven, I tend to view the world as a “provider” rather than as a “client.” However, over the years, in working with certain talented independent artists and innovators, like web developers, writers, illustrators or video directors, I’ve grown to appreciate how hard it is to be a good client — especially if you’re like me.
Here are just a few of Seth’s recommendations (read them all, including what he says about these):
*Simplify the problem relentlessly
*Revise ground rules to eliminate constraints that are only on the list because they’ve always been on the list.
*Be honest about resources.
*Cede all issues of irrelevant personal taste to the innovator. Just because you write the check doesn’t mean your personal aesthetic sense is relevant.
*Raise the bar. Over and over again, raise the bar.
*When you find a faux innovator, run.
*Celebrate the innovator. Sure, you deserve a ton of credit. But you’ll attract more innovators and do even better work next time if innovators understand how much they benefit from working with you.
Here are some recommendations I’d like to add:
*Have one specific objective per assignment: “What specifically do you want to accomplish?” I mean specifically, as in give me a metric. And give me one. Don’t tell me you want to do five different things that are all squishy, or worse, contradictory.
*Raise the bar, don’t change the bar: It’s fine to demand more, over and over. But at least keep it the same kind of bar. For example, don’t (to use this bar metaphor) start out describing a high jump challenge and then suddenly change the assignment into the pole vault, or worse, a decathalon.)
*What Seth said about ceding issues of irrelevant personal taste issues: Tattoo that on your arm, somewhere. A while back, we had a videographer in the office to talk about a project and I noticed how everyone (including me) was telling this incredibly talented person what we thought were great ideas. Then I said, “I’d like you to forget everything we’ve just said. I know you understand our objective and I know you’re an incredibly talented creative individual. Here’s the assignment: Be as creative as you can be in meeting our objective.” It was the high moment of my life as a client. And it resulted in something brilliant that met the objective beautifully.
*Did I mention ceding issues of irrelevant personal taste: If I ruled the world, the “objectives” of a project would drive all decisions. Instead of spending time discussing the relative merits of a shade of the color blue or whether Helvetica or Helvetica Nueve is better, the discussion between client and creative partner would revolve around questions like, “How can we improve this to help us better meet the objective?”
*Never use words like vendor or supplier to describe a provider of a service you want to be innovative: If you want commodity work, describe the source of it as a commodity. Marketers who use the word “vendor” to describe a provider of a creative service are attempting to display “who signs the check.” Note to marketers: If you’re just looking for a vendor, move to the procurement department. If you want your company to sell more stuff so that you can get promoted, realize that your job is convincing great talent to lend some of that talent to you.
*Share the credit: I don’t agree totally with Seth’s final point. I love it when we make our clients look good.
And don’t be like me.