Creative Vision vs Creative Business - Part One: Not Seeing Eye to Eye

Get A Stress Ball

The Scenario:

After presenting work to a client in either a first cut or in some cases after a number of revisions and they decide that they want a drastic change in the project - like a re-shoot/new concept. To draw an example from a personal experience: say the client’s legal team wants a reshoot / new concept because they don’t want to infer that their brand promotes feeding alcohol to pets (yes, this happened to us).

Whatever their reasoning, you now have a choice to make: do the changes/reshoot, try to find some middle ground they are happy with, or decline to make the changes and risk losing the job all together. The sensible answer is obviously to try and find a compromise, BUT what if it seems like no matter what you do, there really isn’t a way to see eye to eye on the project? What do we do when we’ve hit a wall with the client?

Getting and Reacting to the News:

Usually coming by way of email, the client informs us that for some reason they don’t like what we have made, can’t use the work or they don’t want to proceed with the project at all. Try not to take this part personally. This may seem obvious to someone who is used to having their work critiqued by peers or professors, but when it comes to clients, they don’t always use the kindest words when it comes to their feelings about your work. Just remember: the harshness of their language is often just because it is the only way they know how to convey their feelings. It is on us as the creatives to try and see through this mess and get to the meat of their critique. Get a stress ball. Don’t email them back using the same language they do, letting them know how personally you took everything they said.

To draw on another example from personal experience: don’t curse at them over the phone. It’s maybe the best way to not get paid the second portion of something you’re owed. If you get a shitty email from a client, let it sit for an hour, gather your thoughts and consider the best way to respond. Figure out how you can try and reframe your vision to try and get the client on board, or what you need to let go of to make the client happy. Reply calmly and concisely state your case. If that doesn’t convince them, then it’s possible you have reached an impasse with this client.

Pictured From Left: Your Work, Your Client

Pictured From Left: Your Work, Your Client


You’ve Made Your Case and They Say Thanks, But No Thanks:

Well, that sucks, but try and think about what can be salvaged, repurposed, and used to showcase your talents to future clients? Before starting a project, always have a clause in your agreement with any client that allows you to retain the right to use the work in your portfolio. Then go ahead and make any changes and adjustments that you feel will get the piece to the place you are most happy with. For instance maybe the client requested that you add a title card in an odd place that in your mind messes with the flow of the piece. Make a “director's cut” version of the project that reflects the work that you want to make going forward.

Share it strategically. Where does it fit? Make a list of potential target audiences. Show it to these people and make your case. Tell them why you think this piece or a similar piece like it could be successful. The best part for them is that, in most cases, some else has paid (at least partially) to bring your concept to life. Similar to spec work, you now have a concrete example of what you can make for a new client, no pre-vis necessary. Now all they have to do is say, “yes, go make more like that.” And hey, that feels good, right?

How Do We Grow From This?

The more pre-visualization you can get approved ahead of time, the better. Did a mood board last time? Try making a shot-list visualizing and describing each shot in the piece and how they will fit together to show your next client more detail. The more you can push the client to sign off on before production starts, the less thrashing - to borrow a Seth Godin term - they can do in the post/revision phase. Now even when you get all these approved, the client still might see the final product and say, “no thanks,” but then it’s just rinse and repeat, baby. You’re a creative! If you didn’t get into this game knowing you were going to have to take your licks just like everyone else, you’re kidding yourself. 

Now this piece is as much of a reminder to my future self as it is hopefully helpful for others. We don’t always practice what we preach, but we try our best to learn from our missteps and take actions that move us forward. 

Have you ever been in a similar scenario with a client? How did you handle it? What advice would you give yourself for how to handle situations like this in the future?

Thanks as always for reading,