Hey junior, wanna avoid producing #$2=@!. Or how to sell good work.

Utata Thursday Walk 55
Image by Slightlynorth via Flickr

Fact of life, junior creative: not every client is going to buy your great work. Some will just wear you down until what finally runs is just bad. Why? Politics, bad taste, stupidity, or just plain arrogance. And in a good economy, great agencies fire them. But most agencies have clients that are there just to keep the lights on. Usually,  juniors get stuck working on them while the senior people work on the fun stuff.

But most clients will buy decent work, at least on occasion. And a lot of it has to do with how it’s presented, defended, and the steps that are taken once an impasse is met.

Presenting: Some people do better selling work by practicing. Others take improv classes. And some use salesman’s tricks. Then there are the personality sellers, a rare breed of agency rainmaker that can force the work through just by using their charm – you can often find these guys selling bad work just because they hate losing. I try to connect on a personal level and let the client know that I’m being honest and that I have their concerns in mind. I find this strategy almost always works better for existing clients.

Defending: Most people will try to use the rhetorical skills of a lawyer. But my most powerful tool is listening. Just listen to what they have to say. Don’t be quick to refute and make sure they’ve finished talking before you offer up a critique of their thinking. A lot of times they just need to work through things in their mind. And just by keeping your mouth shut you can sell a great idea. I used to work with an awesome media director who later became a client. He uses his body language to get the other guy to talk first and allow him to win the negotiation every time.

It’s good to keep in mind that clients aren’t paid to have taste. (That’s actually your creative director’s job.) Their job is to drive incremental sales for the company. So qualitative arguments will often loose. A particularly blunt boss once reminded me, “this isn’t fucking Cannes, Jimmy.” No it wasn’t. And “artistic” arguments were never going to win the day. If you have to argue with them do it using their terms and goals, never yours.

Next steps: Don’t agree to any specific changes at the meeting. Take good notes (or make sure your AE is) and let them know you’re going to look at all of their suggestions and you’ll be coming back with solutions.

Bogusky calls these “change moments” and says to embrace them and make them positive.

If they’re insisting on something bad, try and figure out why. Most people have reasons why they’re suggesting something – although they don’t always share them unless they’re asked. Getting answers may feel like pulling teeth because some clients don’t want to share their motives – they’re not always positive. This can be hard. If it weren’t, every agency professional would be doing great work and the award annuals would be much thicker.

Unfortunately, sometimes you have to move on because the client refuse to buy anything good. After all, they’re paying. But that’s not your decision, it’s your creative directors. If you do punt, don’t give up on selling something good. Find something else to work on pro-bono or take on a side client to crank out some good stuff for the award shows yourself.

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Posted on: January 15, 2010, by :