The agencies we work for tell clients we want to hear their ideas, even though these ideas are often (bleep). But, let’s remember two things. First, the client probably feels like their idea is amazing and they’re likely proud of it. Second, they’re the ones paying the invoice. Hurting their feelings means hurting the project and your reputation.
So, let’s examine a few ways to politely, yet firmly, keep your clients’ amateur ideas out of the creative.
Remind Them You’re the Expert
Of course you know better. But, convincing them of that may be tough. Fortunately, there are subtle and polite ways to remind them that they hired you for your expertiseóand they need to trust that expertise.
When your client pushes a terrible idea on you, use verbiage like:
-It’s always been my experience that…
-I’ve seen things like this fall flat because…
-I’d hate to see this fail because…
Be as detailed and specific as possible. This shows them you know what you’re talking about. More importantly, it exposes the fact that they don’t.
Best-case scenario: You build yourself up as an expert in their eyes. Even-better-case scenario: They realize how wrong they were and trust you from now on.
Ask for Clarity
Get them to clarify their suggestion. It’s always possible they were misunderstood, and the idea isn’t as asinine as it first sounded.
If the idea is as bad as it sounds, use the finer details to point out issues. Try something like:
“So you want your CEO to rap in this commercial? Okay, what would that look like?”
“I pictured them in front of a brick wall with dancers behind him.”
“Oh, see, back-up dancers are really going to bring up your costs.”
The more someone explains a bad idea, the more opportunity you have to reject it using logic.
Spot Them Early
It’s been my experience that there are three types of clients that can destroy your work. Knowing they’re going to be a problem in advance can help you emotionally prepare for the battle ahead.
Nothing brutalizes your work like a team of 7 hacks micromanaging every word you’ve written. Soon, your new draft has 7 different voices, none of which make any damned sense.
Acknowledge value in every change they suggest. But, stress the need for a singular voice and your work may go un-damaged.
These clients think their business is a far bigger deal than it is. They will want you to write their website or press release to read like they’re being interviewed in Rolling Stone.
Deal with their ideas, never their intentions. They simply want success, but are more aggressive in chasing it. Stay enthused and professional to help them see things your way.
3. Aspiring or failed writers
They are often former English majors. But their careers took them in a different direction and placed them squarely in your way. These people are more likely to come up with their own (awful) tagline or idea.
Simply make sure you come up with better ideas, which shouldn’t be hard. Your work will speak for itself.
If this is an important client, or high-ranking member of their team, you may get a lot of pressure to “make it work.”
Use your massive intellect to take any element of their idea and turn it into something better. This salvages the project, because you give the client the impression that their idea was good, and inspired you to do something even better.
When you envisioned yourself as a writer, you saw yourself coming up with brilliant ideas…not trying to make bad ones work. But when people envision being a boxer, they don’t see themselves getting punched.
This is a truly underrated skill, so master it. The words you use with clients are often more important than the ones you put on the page.
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Ryan LeClaire has been a blogger and copywriter for over a decade. He struggles with most everything else.