How To Work With The Interventionist Client

Jonathan Henley / Marketing, web development Leave a Comment

Marketers and creatives like engaged clients…

…as long as they are principally engaged in what they do best rather than design, marketing planning, etc.

First, another health warning: I have sometimes been accused of making sweeping generalizations in what I write, and this piece uses such generalizations for effect rather than as a mirror on real life.

To be clear, I am absolutely committed to collaboration between teams. To achieve successful collaboration one does need a certain degree of “interventionism” from both parties, if for no other reason than to make everyone’s views known with the appropriate emphasis.

So, not all interventionist clients are as bad as I describe them. Nor, frankly, are all designers and marketers so good they should be immune from the firm hand of direction. 😉

Recognize Any Of These Personalities?

Who are they, these interventionists? What characteristics do they exhibit? In my (yes, generalized) view, interventionists can be identified by the following traits.

A. The interventionist is not a marketer or designer, but is qualified in his own profession. This person is absolutely committed to excellence in his profession, but this commitment can often blinker acceptance of others’ equally well-deserved qualifications.

B. He has a hunger, a drive and a quite proper desire to exceed expectations of the client and of his work performance. Interventionists want to do brilliantly and deliver the best outcomes – which are what everyone should strive for – but this can sometimes manifest itself in a total belief that they are right. Always. And that includes in how to “do” marketing.

C. They sometimes have a smattering of design knowledge. Like from a class. Or from a wife who does interior design and chooses nice fabrics. (That will get me letters of complaint, I reckon!)

D. Quite rightly in my opinion, they do have an appetite for reading and consuming related and relevant media to their sector, which of course exposes them to promotions, web sites and other forms of competitor firms’ marketing efforts.

E. When they see something done in a way they like, by someone else, they consider that to be the “new black” and want the marketing and design team to replicate it, without any consideration of brief, objectives, target audience, etc. Bless ‘em!

F. They rarely give you more than a day of clear water in which to make something happen, assuming of course that you as a marketer have nothing else to do other than wait for their next request. Then they pester you until you want to jump out of the nearest window – or worse, meekly accede to their demands.

G. They’re not usually nasty, unpleasant or domineering. That’s not their way. (Those qualities are left to your over-promoted, insecure and controlling boss – but that’s another article.) The interventionist schmoozes and applauds, then slyly redirects you (again) to his latest “new black” – see E above.

H. They quite like playing with multi-colored pens and sticking together “layouts” using glue sticks, a protruding tongue, and a big paper recycling bin.

So what can a marketer or designer do to defuse this ticking tamperer-bomb?

A Few Tactics To Try

1. When discussing projects, requirements and desired outcomes (the old but vital “what does success look like?” question), set out clearly from the start where and at what stage your skills, knowledge, and experience are going to add value and benefit to their project, and how you will demonstrate progress.

Equally, set out what you will need, when you will need it, and in what form. Let them understand how their skills are going to add value to your efforts, and recognize that you will be relying on their professional knowledge to augment your skills.

2. You share their desire for excellence, for the optimum outcomes for the business and your mutual clients. The key is to merge both sets of complementary skills to form a powerful project force, each recognizing what part the other should and can play to bring positive outcomes in the best time frame.

3. Don’t roll over when presented with the “I asked xxx for their opinion and they said ‘purple’, so let’s make it purple” demand. Explain your point of view in the context of brand, contemporary design and good practice. If need be, show them how damn awful it will look.

4. Encourage them to share what they have seen that they think works for a similar task; ask them to explain why they think it works, then work with them to explore how the same effect might be achieved, in terms of what key messages, what images, what calls to action suit the task. Then share with them how you will translate these agreed criteria into a suitable selection of branded solutions.

5. It is good for them to view other people’s work, yes. It is not good, perhaps, for them to do this when they should be employed doing their own job.

When faced with a daily “I just saw this, can we do something similar” which distorts the original brief (again!!), diplomatically explain that you are happy to see what they think looks good, but you could in the same way direct them on their project management schedule for a major power installation, or new product launch, or indeed their cash flows for 2014/15.

If designers and marketers change their tack based on daily web consumption of their clients, nothing – I repeat, nothing – would ever get done. I mean it.

6. “Rome was not built in a day. Go away, and let me craft you a solution that is right for you and our company but most importantly, for our clients.” Try saying that.

Seriously though, agree on a timescale and a close date. Is it more important than the other two things you are doing for him/her/the team? Agree what is required from him, when and in what form. Will there be copy editing time required? Factor it in.

Demonstrate your professionalism in your field and it will persuade and make him an acolyte for the benefits of great marketing and design in achieving the corporate objectives.

7. Be determined in your defense of your solutions.

8. Take their crayons away, and point them back to the tools of their trade.

In summary – you don’t have to love each other, but that shouldn’t strangle collaboration.

Achieving Real Collaboration

Each team member in any project has a role to play. Marketing and creative team members need to have the oxygen of creative freedom to conceive, create and deliver the right solution of the task in hand.

They need this oxygen of freedom, but…but, they also cannot work in a vacuum (much as some might like and demand – I know they like that too).

They cannot work in the vacuum created by an absence of great direction and professional insight from the colleagues they are solving problems for.  These professionals need to step away from the abyss of interventionism and embrace mutual acknowledgment of complementary skills and expertise, knowledge and execution.

Therein lies great communications work, which will reap great and beneficial rewards for you, your organization, your client and their customers.