Fire Bullying Clients

You Don't Have to Live With Unconstructive Criticism

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In advertising, branding, marketing, design, public relations, we live and breathe creativity. And the thing about creativity is, not everyone agrees on the interpretation of the brand, whether ad concept or identity design.
Peter Madden Peter Madden
Guess what? That's OK. It's called collaborating. A healthy debate can lead to the best product, but I feel it's the agency that needs to lead with authority. Otherwise, you might as well ask "Do you want fries with that website?"

So what happens when the client doesn't want to be led? When it stops critiquing and starts bullying over design issues that you know are detrimental to the brand? (This is usually done over e-mail, of course. Does anyone have the guts to pick up a phone and lay it on the line in businesses today?)

I'll tell you what happens when the client takes the reins and continues to ignore sound advice. You start advertising, marketing and designing not to achieve business goals, but rather to satiate an individual who doesn't know any better. Worse, you spend more time playing psychologist/babysitter/politician than thinking and acting with the brand in mind.

It's frustrating. It's humiliating. It's sad. And it happens in our industry every day. It's the equivalent of a dentist telling you that you need a root canal and you start arguing that the tooth is damaged because of your hairstyle and the good doctor should just dye the hair. And how dare you suggest a root canal! What does the dentist know about teeth anyway? You thought you were hiring a better dentist than that! And look at his bill!

I consider myself pretty lucky -- 95% of our clients have been good to collaborate with. They respect us. They respect the work. That doesn't mean they fawn over our work. It means we have the ability to discuss stylistic choices, strategy and artistic direction. As a client once said, "If everyone's quick to agree, then nobody's thinking." Sure you have those magic moments where people may gush over an idea or design and everything clicks right away in the first presentation. More often than not, though, you have to go over some speed-bumps before hitting the Autobahn.

In the end, are any of us in this business to get a pat on the back, confetti thrown at us, or praise heaped on us? I don't think so. Not if you're getting paid (and if they aren't paying, the confetti better be 18k gold flakes). The dollars a client spends is the big thank you or recognition of your value. It's called business.

But 5% of the time, when business turns to bullying and abuse (on the agency and the brand) with no solutions offered, and no end in sight, it's time to say buh-bye.

For the health of any agency, firing the bully is the remedy. Otherwise, it's like a root canal, except you're doing it to yourself.

Think about it, doctor.
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