Two types of client relationships that can make or break a brand.

A Tale of Two Clients
Like many children of the seventies, one of my first ethical bellwethers was a pair of cartoon characters named Goofus and Gallant. Left to his own devices, Goofus would invariably take the last apple while Gallant always shared his orange with his friends. Goofus cried while his mother removed a splinter, but Gallant took it like a man. As a creative professional with more than two decades under my belt, I’ve grown to learn that, just like Goofus and Gallant, clients can also be placed into one of two categories. Thanks to my understanding of – and ability to distinguish between – these polar opposites, I’ve had the pleasure of helping some great organizations become even greater. Perhaps more importantly, this knowledge has allowed me to circumvent many ponderous, soul-wilting and potentially expensive ventures.

Whether you’re developing a brand, launching a product or building a website, choosing the right firm to help you achieve your goals will be fundamental to the success of your project – and ultimately your organization. However, your role as a client is equally as important to the project’s outcome as the creative team you choose. To illustrate the importance of this role, I present for your amusement and possible edification A Tale of Two Clients. Both are in the same market space, and both are run by some pretty smart and passionate folks who want their respective companies to succeed. They are similar in many respects save one: their approach to collaborating with an external creative team.

To pay homage to my two-dimensional childhood pals (and to avoid litigation), I shall refer to the two companies as Goofustech and Gallantcorp.

Corporate Philosophy

Goofustech considers marketing communications to be an exercise in aesthetics, and puts the creative team in the same category as the nut man or night janitor. After meeting with several potential agencies, Goofustech opts for the least expensive proposal.

Gallantcorp understands the value of marketing communications and sees the creative team as partners in the success of their organization. After meeting with several potential agencies, Gallantcorp chooses the proposal that best articulates the company’s goals and how to meet them.


Conceptual Development

Wary of the creative team, Goofustech metes out company details like they were lifeboat rations, and demurs when asked about the budget. Without much to go on, an obtuse creative brief is developed that could fit any number of companies. Deliverables are loosely defined and expectations on both sides are unclear.

Gallantcorp is candid about all aspects of their organization, including the project’s budget. With full knowledge of the company and its mandate, the creative team develops a comprehensive brief that drills to the very core of Gallantcorp and that makes the most of available project funds.

Project Workflow

The creative team is thwarted at every juncture by silos and roadblocks within Goofustech’s corporate structure. Decision makers are not defined. Calls are not returned. Access is not granted. Feedback is not forthcoming. As a result, workflow repeatedly slows down or stalls entirely.

The creative team works seamlessly with internal decision makers Gallantcorp has empowered to manage the project. Requests are facilitated, proofs are reviewed in a timely manner, communication flows easily in both directions, and work proceeds at a steady pace.

Creative Process

Anxious to get their money’s worth, Goofustech demands three proposed solutions from the creative team. These solutions are then run through a gauntlet of office workers, relatives and sundry laypeople, and a fourth hybrid of the three proposed solutions is requested.

Gallantcorp assess the creative team’s proposed solution and listens carefully to the underlying rationale. Following a collective discussion about the proposed solution and its ability to meet the project’s goals, Gallantcorp asks the creative team to revisit certain elements and thus strengthen the solution.

Critique and Direction

Not convinced that their goals are being met, Goofustech stops communicating with the creative team. After repeated telephone calls and emails to Goofustech, it is finally divined that the client is unhappy, but specific sources of, or solutions to, this discontent or are not forthcoming.

Not convinced that their goals are being met, Gallantcorp shares its concerns with the creative team and discusses ways in which expectations can be better aligned. Conceptual approaches, creative teams and priorities are adjusted to allow for a better workflow between the two parties.

The Outcome

Six weeks past deadline, a strategically ambiguous and creatively diluted Frankenstein monster lurches into the marketplace. Although a cadre of Goofustech executives and their spouses have ham-fistedly art directed the project since its inception, the company places blame for lukewarm performance squarely on the shoulders of the creative team. Goofustech begins to search for a new agency.

The Gallantcorp project is executed on point, deployed on time and strategically supported by requisite media exposure. Almost immediately, goodwill is generated by existing clients and internal stakeholders. The resulting exposure begets bigger clients and better contracts. Gallantcorp meets with the creative team to discuss ways to capitalize on the momentum of this success.

To the Gallantcorps of the world: congratulations, you’re ahead of the curve. You’ve made the vital connection between professional marketing communications and business development, and while you don’t claim to be an art director, ad copywriter or graphic designer, you understand how to work with them. If your organization is not at the forefront, it’s only a matter of time. By comparison, Goofustech just doesn’t get it and likely never will. Run by a micromanaging CEO who fancies himself a bit of a creative whiz, and staffed by pedants more interested in maintaining kingdoms and status quos than moving the organization forward, Goofustech will continue to employ its familiar garbled and homespun marketing formula, with predictable results.

Industry leader or also-ran? The choice is yours.

Sean Mellis is a professional communicator with more than two decades of dedicated expertise helping local governments and non profit organizations prosper. His firm Tangent Civic has been engaged by public-sector administrators whose business goals are often thwarted by fragmented communications programs and hit-and-miss vendors. He helps these clients by becoming an adjunct to their existing communications resources – providing the strategic thought and creative output that each engagement requires.


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