Exert Your Expertise

Growing up I was a huge fan of the Brady Bunch. I’m one of those dorks who can tell you within 15 seconds of the opening sequence which episode is playing. One of the funnier episodes in the first season was the one where Mike Brady’s architectural firm was hired by Beebe Gallini, a foreign and sexy, yet eccentric owner of a make-up line. She wanted Mike to design a new factory for her. Her first suggestion was to design the factory to look like a powder puff. He starts to draw a globe-shaped building and she tells him “Can you make it more fluffy?” And he’s like “More fluffy?” And she’s all, “Yeah, as Beebe Gallini is fluffy, her factory must be fluffy.” Her next idea was to design it so that the roof of the factory opened up like a compact. Mike tried to explain to her the engineering just wouldn’t allow for something like that. Luckily the Brady kids came in and saved the day (see below).

This episode was funny as a kid, but in many ways it’s funnier now that I am a professional creative. How many of you have had clients like Ms. Gallini? Where they want you to make something that just will not work, either literally (akin to a factory with a hinged roof), or creatively you know it’s just the wrong direction (e.g. a homeless charity that wants a 3D fundraiser video). So what do you do in situations like this? Do you ascribe to “the customer is always right” and summarily give them what they want? Or do stand your ground, even if it could mean losing the client?

I think there is a happy medium. Remember, YOU are the expert. As a creative, your mind thinks and works differently than most of your clients (more so if you’re a genius.) They hired you because of your expertise. Yes a client can and in most cases should have input. But can you imagine standing over a plumber and telling him what to do while he’s fixing your sink? Or how about standing next to a doctor in front of some x-rays and giving your opinion about what you see in the image because of some Wikipedia article you read. It’s no different for creatives.

From time to time I get clients who ask to sit in on editing sessions. I explain how we work best when given the space to provide an edit without clients sitting in. The creative process is hindered the other way. It’s our job to learn as much about the client and their business objective so that we can edit a video that will speak exactly to their needs. They can then provide input and feedback on the drafts and revisions we deliver. This is such an important part of how we work with clients, we state it up front in the formal proposal. So even before they eventually hire us, they know the deal.

So exert your expertise. Defend the ideas you have. Respectfully speak out against the bad ideas your client has. As best as possible, explain why you think the idea is bad. Use case studies or anecdotal data if you have it. If you have the time and budget, create a prototype or proof of concept for your idea. Perhaps there’s a compromise or other alternative you can offer. Again, YOU are the expert.

In the end though, if the client wants it, in most situations you will need to do it. It may be as simple as using a song you’re not too crazy about, but you do it anyway. If it’s more egregious and you’re not in the power or position to get what you want, then bite the bullet, do it, and mark it up as a learning experience. You don’t have to use the piece in your portfolio. And in some cases you can probably make a “director’s cut”.

If the rift between you and the client gets so bad you decide to part ways, consider it a blessing in disguise. As Mike Brady learns in the clip below, you may not be losing a client, you just might be saving yourself a nervous breakdown. 🙂

Do you have any fun “horror” stories of client requests? Please share (but don’t mention any names. 😉 )

Advance to 1:17 to get to the good part.

2 thoughts on “Exert Your Expertise

  1. I’ve been in this situation more times than I care to remember… But one of my favorite client moments occured during a product demo shoot. The client asked us to shoot on location at a retail store that was open to the public, because the loved the in store display. We suggested getting some beauty shots in the store, but filming all of the complex product demos in a more controlled environment. They insisted everything had to be shot in the store, and we went along knowing it would be a challenge. The shoot was going great, and we were overcoming the obstacles in short order … Until .. The client decided they didn’t like the in store display for certain shots, and held up our shoot for two hours while the went to another store to purchase black drape to cover up the display! They actually said they wanted more of a studio look, which WE had lobbied for in the weeks preceding the shoot! This caused overtime charges and sub par work, and in the end we were blamed! We had all of our suggestions in writing, but it really didn’t matter .. We were made to be the scapegoat. #classic

    1. Wow. That’s a frustrating situation. Thanks for sharing Tony. If you get a chance, do a search on my site for the post about “When clients hate what THEY asked for.” Sounds just like what you went through.

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