Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Just say "No, (thank you)"

Everyone wants to work. It's always been difficult to turn jobs down, and nowadays, few folks will no matter what the situation is. A recent experience reminded me of the importance of not losing sight of the "big picture" and knowing when (and how) to say no. This time it was a project for a sizable, national consumer magazine, but the same holds true for other types of clients/projects. The clients came to us for what at first sounded like a pretty cool series of images: three full page conceptual still lives illustrating the changing investment landscape and consumer mindsets due to our tanking economy. We NAILED it, and presented 2-3 sketches for each of the shots. The PE said everyone loved them, but that they weren't quite right for the feature (ie. not literal enough), and could we think about it some more and present some alternative directions? A weekend passed, the deadline loomed closer, and the following Monday, several new concepts were presented, getting a lukewarm reception. We were then asked to revisit the original directions, but to change them so they more closely fit the financial subject material (can you say, "literal"?!). After bastardizing the first round, making further changes, twice, we were finally ready to shoot. At that point, I believe EVERYONE was fatigued, and because it was too late to do differently, we forged ahead with approved concepts that NO ONE felt great about. Unfortunately, it showed in the work, and even after re-shooting one of the concepts, I'm certain both parties will bury these images once the feature runs. Looking back, we took the job not just because we felt it was a good creative opportunity, but because we felt we "needed the work". Even though editorial fees are at the bottom of the industry pay scale, something is better than nothing, right? - especially when things are tight. Sometimes not. We should have bowed out of the job gracefully when they reacted the way they did to the first (and certainly the second) round(s) of creative we presented. By not doing so, we put everyone through alot of frustration, the job went over budget, and most likely, they won't be calling us the next time they need imagery. Lesson learned. Again.


lavachickie said...

What an important reminder! Just found your blog through a link from elsewhere.

Here's a question I've pondered as a small freelancer.

How DOES one bow out gracefully?

I've had a client or two where the initial consultation and pitch went well, and the contract setting went smoothly. Seemed like a match made in heaven. But when we actually got into the work, it becomes clear things are going to go awry. (For instance, the first concepts are panned, and after getting feedback and closely followed it for a second round, the response is, "No, wait, let's change it all back to how you had it the first time...")

A client puts a lot of time into selecting a creative, and I'm wondering how to minimize bad blood and trouble when you're stuck between a rock and a hard place: you don't work well together and the result will show that, but exiting the scene will be troubling for the client's timelines and they are not going to see you as having done them a favor in setting them free to find a better match.

And let's face it... especially if they are likely to have the same difficulties with another creative because the issue may well be that they don't know what they want, but yet don't know how to trust ideas from an outside source who understands the psychology of design and communication way better than they do.

Oops, my slip is showing, so I better stop now. :-)

john sharpe said...

Sorry for not responding sooner! Just changed the settings on the blog so I will get notified when I get comments. Duhr! On to your point...One of the biggest challenges about this business is one of the things that makes it so exciting: ideas (and executions of those ideas) are a relative thing to judge. Since they have no tangible qualities against which to measure or compare against another tangible norm, what's "good" or "bad" is strictly opinion based and a moving target dependent on the specific baggage of the beholder. The situation you described is a very common one, and I think the only approach to take is to try and be as specific as possible before committing, about each stage of the creative and production process and what it is you are going to deliver. If possible there should be a budget established for each stage as well. Importantly, money for each stage should be collected prior to advancing to the subsequent stage. While I think there is a tendency for us on the creative side of the business to look at clients condescendingly when it comes to their creative judgement, the truth is, their opinions are as valid as ours. There are an infinite ways of approaching most creative challenges, and NO one, "right" way. However, if there is a real chemistry problem, you'll have a pretty good idea about how the job is going to go by the time you finish presenting your initial concepts. If, at that point your gut says to cut and run, listen to it. As far as putting your client into a bind by bailing, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it as long as I was clear upfront about our mutual expectations and had fulfilled my obligations. Nuff said...