When Creatives and Clients Meet


Late on Thursday afternoon, an account manager came bounding to my office with the news that a new client would be here tomorrow. “Tomorrow?”, I gasped. But tomorrow is Friday! Friday, the pre-game show to the weekend. I had already planned to wear my Spiderman t-shirt.

 Now, wait a minute.

Before you start calling me a geek, I know, I’m a geek. The shirt is black with a rendering of the wall crawler crouched in attack position. Plus, it was given to me by my sons as a Father’s Day gift. It’s very cool and it’s tailor made for Fridays.

But, with a client coming in for a meeting which usually dissolves into lunch, too, that meant the sweetest t-shirt ever made would have to wait until next Friday to come into work.

 Eventually, I made peace with the idea this particular Friday would have to be a staright-up business-casual day. But it got me thinking about how creatives react in client meetings and how clients react to creatives.

 In the old days, only the account manager, account executive or some other suit-wearing agency service person interacted with a client. In those days, the creative team rarely saw a client outside of a major presentation, pitch or important client event. Creatives were sheltered from the “harsh realities” of client interaction. Why?

 Usually it is one of two reasons. Or sometimes, both. The cost and the artist stereotype.

 Fortunately for me I work at an agency that values creative input at all levels. However, other agencies I know tend to think that clients look at a group of agency people and see the dollar signs start adding up. Any additional people in a meeting gets the billable time calculator whirring away. I mean, we only need to meet with our agency contact, right? Why is that long-haired person in here? Is that Patchouli? Why is everyone wearing black?

 Then, there’s the artist stereotype. The idea that if a creative is attending a meeting, then someone has to be responsible for him or her. Someone needs to make sure the creative doesn’t speak out of turn, make an off-color joke or make a mess on the carpet. So most creatives head into a meeting feeling a little leashed. And not just from the suit and tie.

 In my experience, some of the best thinking in the business comes from writers, art directors, designers and new media folk. And not just about creative matters.

 Clients have a difficult job to do in today’s market. They have to manage costs and still produce results on often what is a shoe-string budget. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

 However, managing a creative project can be fun and different. It’s like a college project. Meeting with creatives can make a client feel creative. Plus, I have found that today’s creatives instinctively think outside of their own discipline. They make it their business to know their clients’ business so they can often provide a fresh way of looking at things.

 There is now a new generation of creatives, too. They are extremely articulate and can sell their ideas convincingly to clients – some even have real MBAs and understand strategy. Go figure.

 And with today’s faster cycles and shorter, budget crunched deadlines,  there is an even stronger case for direct creative involvement.

 So don’t be afraid. Open your basements and barn doors. Let your creatives trade their Spiderman t-shirts, black hoodies and Vans for coats and ties, square-toed pumps and clothes that require dry cleaning.

 You might be surprised to learn that when you unleash creatives, they may be some of the smartest people in your agency.

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3 Responses to “When Creatives and Clients Meet”

  1. Brett Turner Says:

    How dare you leave out PR. I am glad that you gave a shout out to Spider-Man, however.

  2. Drew Stauffer Says:

    Reminds me of a 3 hour meeting I was in today. I felt a little bit leashed in the beginning, but at the turn of the second hour I had to speak up.

    One aspect that really bothered me too was the fact that we spent most of the meeting discussing art direction. In my mind we should be discussing website architecture and usability, not whether or not YOU like black. Honestly, at the end of the day what YOU (the client) likes is irrelevant. The website is not for YOU, its for the customers. I know your paying the bill, but come on…let the professionals do their job.

    I think back to a quote I read from Jerry French who once said told his marketing agency in regards to a campaign, “I don’t like it, I don’t understand it, I think it’s stupid, but I’m not the consumer, so go for it.”

    OK this turned into a rant, but I couldn’t have done it without you Dean. Thanks for letting me vent.

    • Dean Bryant Says:

      You make a good point Drew. I think if a client isn’t “getting it” it’s not their fault. It’s ours. I think the account manager or account executive should help guide and counsel the client to make sure they understand what we’re pitching. They have the keys to a client relationship and if you have a good relationship, clients trust you.

      I know blah blah blah. I’m fortunate to work with some great account mangers and that really makes for great clients.

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