If you haven’t heard of the 80/20 rule by now, this is how it goes: 80% of your income usually comes from 20% of your clients. Similarly, 80% of your grey hairs usually come from 20% of your clients (not the same 20% mind, but there can be an overlap). In lieu of an explanatory Venn diagram, here is a picture I drew of a unicorn with teeth:
Just like the were-unicorn (were-icorn? I’m working on it…) sometimes when clients provide feedback, although they mean well, their methods of providing criticism can feel like they’re tearing your face off and then spitting hot acid into your raw face-meat.
Ja, it’s a weak comparison, but I really wanted everyone to see my picture of a were-icorn.
Anyway, here are a couple of instances when client feedback just isn’t as useful as it’s intended to be.
1. The Print-Out, Write-On, Scan-In, Send-Back
The ‘Print-Out, Write-On, Scan-In, Send-Back’ is not in itself a sign of a bad or difficult client- It can just be the tell-tale sign of a client who has taken their first baby-steps into technology, which can be quite endearing.
For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘Print-Out, Write-On, Scan-In, Send-Back’, it’s what happens when a client prints out your copy deck/ mock-up, writes their notes all over it, scans the document back in and then sends it back, so that you can action their stream-of-consciousness edits.
If you, as a client, have ever done this- please, stop (see also: Sticky Note functionality in Adobe Reader). The intention behind your calligraphic cypher might be pure and noble, but to us it just looks like long division… you know, maths– that thing we all failed in high school, which is why we’re in advertising.
2. The Feedback Orgy
You, client, are as a god to us. If you say ‘make the logo bigger’, we will make the logo so big as to engulf the sun. If you say ‘make it bluer’, we will make it bluer than the nadir of the Marianna Trench (which is technically still just water-coloured, but whatever).
Your word is law and your changes will be implemented as soon as they are uttered- or at least straight after lunch.
So when you send us 6 different sets of changes from 6 different people, some of whom contradict one another, with no indication of whose feedback takes priority, it makes us feel like children of divorce being asked choose between multiple parents.
Dear client, never forget: open-mouthed confusion is the advertising professional’s natural state. We don’t need a master’s degree to do what we do. On some days, we barely even need to be conscious. Please make it easy for us to understand what you want.
3. The Tell it to the Hand
Remember when you were 13 and, instead of breaking your pre-pubescent heart in person, the object of your affection sent a friend to pass along the message that you were no longer ‘liked’?
Well, maybe that never happened to you. Maybe you were super popular your whole life, and maybe no one ever broke up with you ever, and maybe you should just go drown yourself in a big bowl of perfect. Gah.
If your direct line of communication with your client has been suddenly intercepted by an assistant, an assistant to the assistant, or an uninvited third party of any kind, this is akin to getting ‘the hand’. Your client no longer likes you. They do not want to stand with you in the line for the tuck shop and they do not want to hold your hand at the back of the hall during hymn practice. Communicating to your ugly mug has just been outsourced.
But instead of running home to cry into a bowl of fruit loops, you now need to participate in a high-level corporate game of ‘broken telephone’. For the remaining duration of your project, your words and intentions will get mangled like a new bra in a dryer. The newer your 3rd wheel is to the project or the company, the more misinterpretations are likely to ensue. There are some cases when the addition of an extra pair of eyes or hands is actually a good thing- but if the takeover feels hostile, it probably is.
The Good News?
The good news is that, unlike the were-icorn, your clients can usually be calmly communicated with in whatever common tongue you share, and all these misunderstandings and misconceptions can be quickly nipped in the bud over a nice big glass of social lubricant.
A were-icorn, on the other hand, will still just rip your damn face off.