What clients want

John Moore on the art of agreeing on a client-agency prenup.

Whether you are from the design agency side or the client-side (often known as “the dark side”, a moniker in itself which is psychologically most probably a bad start for a relationship), you will probably either have experienced frustration from the other side not listening, not explaining or simply just being plain stupid. Sadly, it’s a common occurrence.

Mark + Paddy’s (Google them) excellent series of posters highlight some great , albeit worryingly common, client comments…”I’ll know what I want when I see it“, or “I really like the colour, but can you change it?” or “I’m the target market” and “I don’t like it“. Another includes “We need more images of groups of people having non – specific fun“.

Or you find them asking “Can you turn it around in Photoshop so we can see more of the front?” and even “we can’t use the national anthem because it’s too IRA”. Pixel Fox Studiosposters highlight some of the common language used by clients who don’t want to pay. Like, “there are more projects lined up so charge extra next time”.

Even “we are a big name to have in your portfolio” and “this is just a five – minute job..” sometimes, “other agencies charge much less..” or “We’re a non – profit organisation”. So yes, there are inexperienced or just plain bad clients, but there are also many experienced clients who have behaved this way but have never been properly challenged.

Agencies are more likely to rant among themselves, or stew and suffer rather than confront. The average size of design agencies being under five people is a problem and sometimes the balance of power in the client/agency relationship can be askew.

Client side

On the flip (dark) side Shan Preddy of Preddy & Co design training and consultancy in her books on the UK Industry writes about what frustrates clients most in dealing with agencies.“Navel gazing purists hanging on to a design to the detriment of commercial viability” is a personal favourite comment of mine. The lack of a true understanding of a client’s business often ranks number one. Design agencies being obsessive about brand guidelines is a common complaint, and being particularly protective and defensive when other agencies are involved. They are guidelines, not a rule book.

The lack of confidence and professionalism in presentations is cited as an issue by clients. As is the ability to deliver from the start to the end of complex projects. In general, clients appreciate and enjoy the creative work but can feel let down by the rest of the package. Up To The Light’s survey reveals nearly three-quarters of clients wish their agencies were more proactive, while 61% wish they were more self – critical.

So nothing particularly new here. Good design comes from good relationships. And a lot of trust. So why not design the relationship from the start. Clearly map out the scope, agree staged sign off procedures, understand subjective likes and dislikes, understand what has and hasn’t worked before, agree how the day the day work will function and how problems which may be encountered en route might be solved.

Understand why previous agency (and client) relationships have failed. Finally, agree what success (from both sides) looks like and how you will be paid. It sounds very boring and practical but often after an exhaustive pitch clients and agencies jump into the honeymoon stage without a real plan of without really knowing each other.

Only fools rush in, as the song goes. The partnership needs to be designed, otherwise it quickly becomes an unreasonable order – taking operation. Treat the relationship as a brief in itself. To use the marriage analogy – it is built on ups, downs, compromise and sharing moments of success. Design needs to be seen by marketers as a true profession, not a trade.

If design is purely seen as tactical and aesthetic, many client comments like the ones above will continue. It seems simple, but the more professional designers become the more it will become a profession – and that would not be a bad thing at all.

This article was originally published in Marketing.ie magazine in May / June 2015