Avoiding Communication Pitfalls With Clients

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

It’s two days before deadline and the client is frantically calling. “This isn’t what we wanted at all! We wanted more energy in the ad!” Suddenly, the muscles in your shoulders tense under stress. You call up the point of contact, who says that the client didn’t provide much direction in the first place but when they showed them draft designs, they picked the one that eventually became the final design that you’re looking at. So, what went wrong? 

If you think this is only happening to you, think again. Communication is the number one barrier between delivering what your client needs and understanding what the client wants. In a world clocked correctly by IDEO Executive Chair Tim Brown where “everyone is a designer,” your client can come to the table with an idea in their minds that they can’t readily explain. 

That’s why it’s important for us to be able to translate. It’s not enough to be a fantastic, creative mind in the ad world—you need to be able to translate the client’s wants into their needs while making it all their idea in the process. Here’s some tips to help you get to the “yes” portion of the project with a client.

Identify the Client’s Needs

 This is where you always start. Clients oftentimes come to you with an idea already in their mind of what they want to do. Because everyone is surrounded by a world of advertisements, clients tend to build off of ads that either they found receptive or that they thought were particularly clever. Before you put the cart before the horse, you need to identify the Five Ws for the purpose of the ad and the Four Ps to determine the range and scope of the ad. Hone in on needs, messaging, and audience and a clearer picture will form on what your client wants.

Brainstorm with the Client

This is the part where those communication skills need to be dusted off. I find the greatest success with client satisfaction is when you bring them in on an initial brainstorm for ad ideas. This is where they’ll pitch their idea, allowing you to ask all the questions you need to get clarification for their vision. It’s also here where you can steer the conversation into ad territory that you know will work for your client. This may be difficult if the client is dead set on a specific idea. It’s important to keep the conversation focused on positives, such as the things that you felt were good with their idea. Then take those positives and incorporate them into your pitch. In this way, it makes it seem like it was their idea all along.

Get a Second Opinion

One of the best parts of working in a team full of creatives is that you have the opportunity to get plenty of professional feedback. Sit down with a co-worker or confidant and tell them about the pitch. Share draft concepts that the client likes. Sometimes, you need a second pair of eyes to point out something obvious or asking questions that you yourself didn’t ask during the brainstorm. Catch any mistakes here so you can correct them before you go too deep in the project.

Check in with the Client

Be wary of “Looks good!” emails from the client. What you may hear is, “Great, please proceed with making this the main focus of the ad.” But what the client may have meant was, “Good start, can’t wait to see your other ideas.” The communication process is where messages get lost in translation. Think of it like a telegram: the sender encodes a message, but did you decode it correctly? The only way to know for sure is to respond and receive feedback. When you do, be clear about what you are asking for. Ask for clarification. Be sure that you are both on the same page.

Dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s

So, it’s two days before deadline and you’re ready to send the final proof to the client. Did you do all of the glaringly obvious things that you think you already did? Spellcheck? Had a normal look at it for a genuine audience reaction? One of the most common things I joke about with my ad team was to make sure that you check for hidden swastikas. You’d be surprised how often people don’t do the bare minimum before sending the final version to a client. Be sure to pass the ad around the team one last time to see if anyone can pick out anything that jumps out at them.

Pat yourself on the back

So, you not only delivered on what your client wanted but also what they needed, and they couldn’t be happier. Congratulations to you on knocking it out of the park! Be sure to build off your successes and use them as your building blocks for future client satisfaction. Be sure to learn from any mistakes you made along the way, too. Remember, clients may come to you for similar reasons, but every one of them is different and will require a different approach to translating their needs and wants. Be thorough, be concise, and everything should turn out nice.