I’ve been telling this story a lot lately…that’s usually a good cue for me to share it here with the intention that it serve you well. When I was first starting out as an Account Exec at a marketing/advertising agency, I had a client who became a pain in the ass. Or rather, the RELATIONSHIP became a pain in the ass.
The road to said asshood was long and wind-y, but we both contributed to the ultimate destination.
Big part of it was that my then boss wasn’t a huge fan of boundaries. And I knew precious little about exerting them. Which, as we know is the death knell of any good relationship.
This was a "sexy" client (read: big fish), so our orders were essentially to hand them the sun, the moon and the sky, nomaddawhat.
It started with the creation of a rebrand (and logo). Normally, you would start here with a couple of black and white options and build from there. Not so with this client. They wanted to start much, much further along. Colours, sizing, variations…all buttoned down right out of the gate. We tried to deliver. No matter how many times we were sent back to the drawing board, we were told by our boss to keep going until the client was 1000% satisfied. No small feat, as they made all decisions by committee.
I recall us creating an iteration that was exactly, precisely TO THE what they had asked for. It didn't look right, or even kind of close, or even decent, but we presented it anyway because we had learned the hard way by that time (round #34?) to show them EXACTLY what they wanted...nomaddawhat.
But by then, they were seriously pissed that we were still so off in our design approach. How could we present something that looked so awful? (Great question.)
No matter how loudly we protested that it was EXACTLY what they had asked for, the response we got back was infuriating:
"Your job is to engineer the solution to the challenge".
Asshat comment. AND completely right. It WAS our job. We got it right on logo #53.
When we finally started to do what we should have done in the first place: own our expertise and stand in it. The very reason we were hired in the first place.
Two things I learned then:
1) Relationships require boundaries that honour both parties. Shame on us for not having delineated ours and requested theirs.
2) My job as the service provider IS to make the client happy (within those respectful boundaries).
3) Good feedback is a gift. One that we weren’t offered…nor did we really deserve it. We all behaved badly.
It was in the context of a discussion about evaluation. You see, one piece of our agenda with Beyond Compare is to help transform disdain (that quality of looking derisively down on someone) into the conscious critique of evaluation. (And transforming hero-worship into celebration...more on that another time).
Disdain’s easy to understand…it’s the “I can only see your flaws and limitations and deny my own”. Rich and fertile ground for discovery, as you can imagine.
Evaluation’s trickier and the place where we tend to fumble. It’s the “I see your limitations and recognize that I have some too” place. It’s the place of feedback and the choice to engage critically with someone’s work without making them wrong. Assessment, debate and difficult conversations live here. For the benefit of both parties. Like I say, tricky.
So I totally appreciate the clarity and simplicity that Paul uses when he talks about working with his own clients as the creative. He does what my team ought to have lo those many years ago LONG before logo #1 was even imagined…he shares a one-pager with his clients to make sure the exchange of feedback is fruitful, nourishing and USEFUL for both parties. Efficient too.
His top 2 biggies for offering feedback if you’re the client?
#1 - Refer back to goals when asking for changes; and,
#2 - Don't be prescriptive - describe what isn't working and allow me to problem solve how to fix it.
Super clear. The client is the client and the creative is the creative and the work gets co-created in a place of mutual respect. (He shares much more about this in his upcoming course for creatives.)
Let’s face it. Feedback feels like it’s a slippery slope because we all come at giving and receiving it from a strong and defended (and defending) ego.
But it needn’t be.
When we can focus on the goals, see the inherent possibility of the gift of feedback and come at it from a place of compassion and mutual respect, we are really that much closer to bringing our very best EVERYTHING forward.
Which is what it’s about, non?