Creative Direction: Building stronger relationships with your clients (even the difficult ones)

The relationship between creatives and their clients is one of the most important parts of the creative process because to be able to do great work, your clients need to trust and respect you and your creative process but it doesn’t always happen. In this episode I will talk about how to build a solid foundation with any client, the importance of trust in that relationship, how you can training bad traits out of difficult clients, how you can avoid problems by including clients in the creative process and somme basic tips to building rapport with your clients.

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Show Notes:

We all know if we want any good work to go out the door we have to figure out how to work with them at a minimum and ideally partner with them


– Working with clients is a relationship and like any relationship it requires investment, trust and evolution.
– The best clients I’ve worked with have been partners not bosses
– Its sounds simple but the best place to start is to take the time to listen to your clients. Understand their point of view.
– Decide what you can add, where you can educate and where you can push things forward.
– It may need to be re-educated but it should be respected.
– That’s what you owe them, but they owe you something too
– They owe you the respect of letting you go through your creative process to solve their problem


– It has to cut both ways because trust and confidence are the foundation for everything
– But its also something that the creative team needs to think about and its something they need to build because it is the real product you are trying to sell your clients
– Its the thing that will let you do the work you want, takes the risks you need and let good work go out the door
– Just like leadership, building trust doesn’t happen all at once
– Its like falling in love, its a lot of little things that add up to something big
– But its also something you and the team need to think about
– It can be as simple as something as not disagreeing with your team in front of a client
– This doesn’t mean you never disagree with your team – but it means think about if that disagreement is worth eroding the clients trust
– Wait until after the meeting and then discuss it
– It can be little things like this that can make a real difference in the relationship you have with your clients


– So what do you do if your client is badly behaved, doesn’t listen and doesn’t respect you?
– Most of what I know about working with problem clients I learned from training dogs. That could sound really bad – but to be clear, I’m not comparing my clients to dogs. What I am saying is that training dogs taught me about behavior shaping.
– Its where you encourage the good behavior and discourage the bad over time to get the behavior you want. I use this same thinking with my problem clients.
– I don’t reward bad behavior because I don’t want it to continue
– Our clients aren’t creatives but they are creative.
– I want them to be a part of the process but just like anyone on my team, you have to understand how the creative process works


– You also have to understand that there are going to be different challenges through the creative process.
– Most people just concentrate on the problems with getting the idea start or sold
– There is also another key moment you need to worry about its when the creative work is done and you send it into being built, created, etc.
– A lot of clients kind of turn into tiny drug addicts during the creative process. They get addicted to the fun of creating. When you take it away they go into withdrawals.
– This is understandable because we have asked them to be a part of the creative process.
– Give them a road map so they understand the process and refer back to it often
– Mock-ups and prototypes help bridge the gap and keep them calm
– But when I have had clients who are really bad at this I manufacture things for them to do to keep them from derailing this critical part of the process



– Any time you are working with any client make sure that you speak slowly, smoothly and with a tone that conveys authority.
– It may sound like a little thing but if you think about when you meet someone who is nervous, jumpy or mumbles you never perceive them as confident or in charge.
– Watch any TED talk or any great speaker and you will see that they speak slowly and with a self-assurance that gives their subject credibility and authority.
– I would encourage you to practice for an upcoming client meeting and make  you record it on your iPhone so you can watch it later.


– One key part of being a great leader is also part of being able to connect with people which is your ability to just listen to what someone has to say without correcting, interrupting or just waiting to tell to your own story.
– People who constantly correct or interrupt others are perceived as insecure, needing to be right and one up everyone else.
– Most people are unable to suspend their own ego long enough to put someone else’s wants, needs and perceptions ahead of their own.
– So next time you are sitting with a client practice ego suspension by letting your client talk, listen to what they have to say and then ask them to elaborate on their point instead of immediately trying to make a counterpoint.
– Most creatives are in such a rush to be right that they don’t take the time to understand how that makes their clients feel and what it does to the interpersonal dynamic.


– Body language can have negative connotations
– For me it’s because I have to be sure that I’m not standing to close to someone or standing next to someone who is sitting down because those physical juxtapositions can feel intimidating.
– I also use body language with my team in my studio by doing something as simple as giving someone a high-five when I walk past them in the hall.
– You would be amazed at how something as simple as a high-five can make someone smile, cheer someone up or create a connection with someone you barely know.


– It is another small trick but I have found that for some people nothing builds rapport like asking them for help.
– I do it because we are all biologically conditioned to feel connected to someone who needs help because they are in a vulnerable position.
– I keep the requests for help small so they are something that can be done easily but the outcome is no less effective.

These are all simple things that I have learned over the years. I would encourage you to use them as a starting point because everyone is different and every client is different.

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