You're an Expert -- Don't Be Afraid to Act Like One

Your Client Pays You to Be a Pro, not a Yes-Man

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Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
Not so long ago I took my car in to get the air conditioner serviced. The next day I realized I needed something I had left in its glove box. The service rep took me back to the service bay where I found my car resembling a body on a medical examiner's slab. My baby's dash had been completely removed (including the steering wheel) with hundreds of unidentifiable parts scattered in its trunk for safekeeping. I was in shock.

The service person told me they didn't like to let customers see their cars while they're being serviced to avoid my reaction. After regaining my composure and choking down the nausea that had welled into my throat, I retrieved my forgotten article and ambled back to the street to catch my ride to the office. When I got my car back, I was relieved to find it was back in its original form, but I can't get the picture of my beloved in such an awful state. Some things are better left in ignorance. I think the same rule applies to advertising.

Do clients really need to know every step of production? I think not. I recently shot a commercial with a director who really wanted to shoot a scene not in the original concept. The client felt that it would be distracting to the spot and didn't want to shoot it. I asked them to let the director shoot it because we could decide later if it helped the spot or was a distraction. I reminded them that the director was a creative contributor to our work and we should allow him the opportunity to contribute. My client agreed and we shot the scene. That scene became an important part of the spot, greatly improving it. We benefited by letting someone take apart our baby and fix it.

It is important to remember that what we do isn't finished until it is on the air, in the publication, or wherever it is connecting to the consumer. Until that moment it is the agency's job to improve the work throughout the project. We all have a preconceived notion of how an advertisement is going to be experienced. If we creatives fight the urge to see that work produced in that exact way, we're limiting its potential. Granted, members of the team producing the work must have talent, but that's another story. The point of this story is that we shouldn't hold on too tightly to our "baby." Allow others to help make it special.

I liken making great advertising to making a piece of fine pottery. In college, our ceramics professor told everyone that we didn't make a piece of pottery alone -- the pottery itself worked with us. If the potter tried to force the clay the piece would be ruined. "The clay knows what kind of pot it wants to be," he said. I've found that much in life is like pottery. Don't force things. Many great ideas happen during the making and yet are not allowed if we are afraid to hold the controls a bit more loosely.

In advertising, many of our creations are so because we're simply too afraid to ask for the chance to make something better. We're afraid of taking the responsibility. What if the client hates it? They didn't say we could do it that way; they'll make us pay to redo it.

Is that too much of a risk to take? What if they are delighted? What if they said, "Wow, that's so much better. That's why we hired you guys, because you do stuff like this." Maybe taking the risk of paying for a redo is exactly what many of us need to do a little more often.
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