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You’re Only As Good As Your Client

Some people's feet, all wearing All Star shoes

Clients that wear Converse to meetings are keepers (unless you're an Uggs person, of course)

Mike Monteiro and George Lois would probably both punch me in the face if they read this article. To them, it’s a creative agency’s responsibility – hell, duty – to fight tooth and nail for their own vision of a product, regardless of what any client might demand. To George and Mike, the failure of a web site or ad campaign is the failure of the agency behind it, not the client. And given the amazing quality and success of their work, it’s hard to deny them otherwise.

In fact, I’m certain that this unwavering dedication to quality is what separates the great from the good, the amazing from the mediocre. And as so many have written before me, most digital and creative folk will staunchly testify that all they need is clear goals, well-defined boundaries and the autonomy to get on with their job in order to produce fantastic results. After all, it’s no secret that design by committee, analysis paralysis and group grope are a sure fire way to turn a project into shit.

But we’ve all been there. We’ve all worked on something that didn’t quite live up to our expectations, either because we couldn’t justify our point properly or because, no matter how much we tried, we just couldn’t get our client to listen. Or, hell, maybe you’re one of those people who just didn’t care either way but then in that case, you’re on the wrong blog, buddy. Of course, we can’t forget that clients know their business better than anyone but we also need to remember that we know our business better than them. Blaming a client for allowing them to make poor decisions is a cop-out on a megalithic scale. And yes, that’s something I believe in firmly.

“To create great work, here’s how you must spend your time: 1% inspiration, 9% perspiration, 90% justification.”

- George Lois

For me, all of this means two avenues open up on the road to producing great work: you either fight like hell for it or you only work with clients who are aligned with you. Given that I’m neither aggressive, confrontational or hairy-backed enough to argue with people constantly, the latter route makes far more sense. To be fair though, there’s likely always going to be an element of fighting for what you believe in, no matter who you work with, but I think even if you’re prepared to shout and scream over your ideas, you’ll eventually meet someone who can shout and scream harder.

So with this in mind, it becomes ever more important to make sure you pick the right clients and work with folk who agree with your principles, ethos and approach. It’s never a substitute for strong rational or design justification but being on the same wavelength with someone from the get-go makes a project run so much more smoothly. For example, most of our clients recognise our love for typography and our severe loathing for predictable stock photography and that understanding often means it’s one less thing we need to spend a lot of time convincing them on, time we can instead funnel into other more productive tasks. To me, this is an ideal arrangement born out of a strong initial understanding.

“Show your work. Don’t hope someone “gets it” and don’t blame them if they don’t – convince them.”

- Mike Monteiro

Conveying and aligning on values early on isn’t always an easy task though, especially given some of the very rigid and formulaic tendering processes out there. But that’s why we write this blog. And have a very open and transparent nature. And are incredibly clear up front about what we do and how we do it. Personally, I believe the more two parties can learn about each other before doing business together, the more you will know how well you are suited to one another. Call it an approach of understanding.

The risk with all of this though, is that if you fail in finding clients who share your principles or just fundamentally lack a connection with, you face the possibility of producing a lot of substandard work because you never had to grow the balls to fight your own corner or convince the right stakeholder when it really mattered. But like I said earlier, you’re never going to be able to escape justifying or selling your ideas, it’s part of the business – working with someone who shares the same ideals as you just makes it easier, more efficient, and less dramatic.

So whilst I completely agree with George and Mike, I also think it’s important to make sure you work with those that share your principles because the end product, the thing that you create and show to the world, is always going to heavily intertwined, driven and influenced by them. But then Mike says the same thing so it looks like we’re in agreement all along anyway.

Image credit: Kisså

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Author: Gordon McLachlan

Gordon is uncomfortably good looking.


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