It’s a mindset that’s prevalent with designers, although it’s not unique to them. I’ve seen it in Account Services, Planning and Development. The problem seems to come in the distorted perception of what doing a good job looks like. In many disciplines, attention to detail and a drive to create something beautiful trumps absolutely everything else - even if it’s not in the client’s interest.
I’ll give you an example. I was talking to a senior client recently and they were very positive about us, our work and the relationship in general. But there was a small frustration they wanted to pass on (perhaps it wasn’t that small given it was brought up). I can’t remember the word-for-word feedback, but it was along the lines of ”you need to try and get the guys to be less precious about the work in the early stages. They REALLY need to understand what I need it for”. Essentially this frustration boiled down to having to wait 3 weeks to see some visuals. The visuals, when they arrived, were beautiful. But that wasn’t the brief.
It’s because there are too many layers between the client and the work. It goes through the account team, maybe the planner, then through the studio traffic system, and back along the chain to the front line. It’s just like the classic story of the order going down the line of British Forces during WWII. What started as “Bring reinforcements, we’re going to advance” eventually ended up as “Bring three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”. The original message gets lost and people fill in the gaps in between. The all powerful force of the design team’s desire to do a beautiful job overpowers the more nuanced original brief and we end up with an unhappy client and a frustrated design team.
What are the takeouts here?
The Account Team must ‘own’ the response to the client
Don’t get strong-armed by other forces. They’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth, so know better than anyone else in the agency what it is that the client’s looking for. They have to shout loudest when it comes to what direction to take.
Fight the culture of Perfectionism
It’s commercial art and at some point it’s got to be good to go. That’s not to say that it can be slap dash. Budget and timescales should be acknowledged as harsh taskmasters.
Sometimes ‘Half Done’ is correct
This can be a tough one, because the Culture of Perfectionism is so strong. But sometimes, involving the client in the process works. Getting them involved at early concept stages and seeking feedback can strengthen the client-agency bond. Mostly it’s a political tactic and the client wants to use it at their end to seek some sort of advantage, or inclusion. We, as agencies, need to more readily understand and embrace these opportunities.
Remember we’re in the Service Industry
It’s amazing how this can get lost within the agency machine when it’s trying to do its best work. I’d encourage all agency people to ask, at every stage in the process, “is this going to make the clients job easier?”. Use it as yardstick for making service related decisions.
So, next time a client asks for “something rough to show the senior team”, we’ll know exactly how to gauge the appropriate response.