Don’t be afraid to speak up if the Emperor has no clothes is the advice from Richard Tierney
There’s that moment. The moment after a creative agency shows a piece of work to a client. Everyone is quiet, each with their own thoughts.
The producer is thinking: ‘Will they like it?
The account manager is thinking: ‘How can I minimise the cost of any changes?’ and often the client is thinking: ‘What do I say now? I don’t know what I think…’
Roll back a few weeks; each project starts with highly principled discussions about strategy, overarching aims and long-term goals. Then, the work is won. Often no one knows why.
Sometimes there’s a meeting and the outcome is described in the third person.
No one wants to be the author of the coming project. Rarely, but occasionally the outcome is: ‘Richard presented his proposal and we all agreed’.
Sometimes the client has no idea what he wants and the producer has no idea either. A mutual unspoken pact means no one admits to this, while having a jolly good chat filled with meaningless generalisations.
In theory, creative work is commissioned because the client doesn’t have the talent, or time, in house. And often it is because the client has no idea what the solution might be. Sometimes it’s a simple case of outsourcing guilt: ‘No one here was responsible…’
In my experience it really does not matter where you start.
One difference between creative and process work is that creative workers are prepared to start with little idea of how they will complete a project. The journey is one of exploration. What’s discovered along the way is important, where you started less so.
And back at the point of first review. It’s not perfect, it’s a rough cut, a first assembly, an outline, something to discuss – not the finished piece. Like a cake with slightly wrong ingredients it will not taste right yet.
Very few people, even those of us who’ve done it for a living for many years, know what the best thing is at this point. The creatives have been living with this for some time and are probably lacking perspective. The client seeing the work for the first time often has little idea how to react. But to get to the next stage, a reaction is needed.
I was once told by the creative director of a Soho agency that the first thing said after a review of work in progress sets the tone for the following conversation.
A positive comment leads to a positive discussion. It helps everyone. Much better to have conversation about what’s good, so we can have more of that, rather than start off with a slanging match about what’s wrong. If there are any egos in the room it will not end well.
Supportive comments from a stance of mutual respect get the best outcome.Remember this is one of those rare occasions when it’s quite OK to say: ‘I don’t know. What do you think?’