Creative responsibility

This is a difficult and sensitive area.

As a creative person, you are delivering your talent, experience and expertise to a client who can’t match you in any of those areas (otherwise, why would they need you?). Their ability to properly evaluate your work is questionable and the chance of you understanding all their needs is remote. However, you are being employed because of your talents and have an obligation to your client to deliver what you consider to be the best possible work. The potential for conflict is obvious.

If a client is making a clear mistake, you, as an experienced creative, have a duty of trust to tell them. The trouble is, your decision is probably an opinion with no empirical facts or measurable tests to back it up. But your opinion is probably backed by many years of specialised experience, and the client respected your opinion and talent enough to give you the job.

If a client has significantly changed the brief you have the right to walk away if you consider it has turned from a good idea into a terrible one. You’ll need all your communication skills because both client and creative need to stay calm and acknowledge that each are trying to get the best possible result. Remember that words about creative work can often be misunderstood. If you are trying to prove that something is a bad idea, show it, play it, demonstrate it, write it. Make the client understand you. If you manage to persuade them they’re wrong, they may be very grateful to you, but even if you don’t, at least you tried – and that’s important.

The global marketing division of a large multi-national company invites three design companies to pitch for the re-branding of their on-screen identity with a well thought out, strategic brief. After two rounds of presentations and a detailed selection process assisted by their main advertising agency, the winner is chosen and contracts agreed. Almost immediately, the head of marketing changes his mind about something that significantly affects the strategic thinking of the project. To the design company and the ad agency the new idea is not just weak, it could actually harm the client if used. However, the client holds the purse strings to one of the largest accounts the agency has; hundreds of millions of dollars per year. It’s a brave agency executive who tells his best client that he’s an idiot.

The design company, however, may never work with this client again and certainly can’t afford to spend the next year creating something they already know would be a laughing stock. They fly 6,000 miles for one face-to-face meeting solely to prove to the client that he’s making a big mistake. Fortunately, halfway through the merciless trashing of a dreadful idea, the client sees the point, changes his mind and accepts the creatives’ new and far better ideas. Forty account executives, sitting around the outside of the meeting room, breathe a collective sigh of relief, everyone shakes hands, exchanges huge smiles and the designers fly back home to get on with the work. No-one will ever know how close they got to being fired from the biggest job they ever had.

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