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Collaborating with the Enemy

Posted on July 23, 2012 and read 1,243 times

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bayfield Collaborating with the EnemyMike Bayfield
Senior Copywriter
balloon dog

There’s an old joke in Hollywood that goes something like this:

A young guy is trying to make it as a screenwriter. He’s been toiling away on his laptop for years. Late nights. Early mornings. Broken relationships. Just pumping out screenplays. Each time he types ‘Fade Out’ on a final draft, he writes off excitedly to agents and producers. But he can barely get anybody to even read them. Even when he does, the scripts thump back on his doormat with a compliment slip and automated ‘Don’t give up the day job’ reply.

Anyway, he’s on the verge of quitting it all to become a copywriter, when he gets the call he’s been waiting for – from the lowly assistant of a famous producer.

Not only has the big man actually read the script, but he loves it and wants to fly the writer out to ‘take a meeting.’

The writer can’t believe it. This could be it. The moment – and paycheck – he’s been dreaming of all these years. The ticket arrives and he gets on the plane.

When he lands at LAX, a chauffeur-driven limo is waiting to whisk him straight to the dream factory itself: the studio lot and the producer’s office. The producer gets up to greet him with open arms. Big grin and an even bigger cigar. He even offers the writer one.

He can’t stop talking about how great the script is. Best thing he’s read in years. How the writer is a major new talent. How it’s going to be huge. And how Brad and Angelina are lined up to star.

The writer can already picture himself up on the stage before the great and good of Hollywood, delivering his Oscar acceptance speech. But he’s suddenly snapped out of it. The producer’s tone has changed. The smile’s still there, but there’s now a rather strange glint in his eye.

“You’re gonna be rich, kid,” he says. “But first, there’s one thing you gotta understand about this business. It’s all about collaboration. Bend over.”

Our business is all about collaboration too. And, as a creative, you often feel just like the rookie screenwriter, muttering curses through gritted teeth about those philistines who don’t understand real genius when they see it. The forces of mediocrity and conservatism that you have to fight against to realise your true vision. The enemies of creativity. Or, as we like to call them, clients.

As Roger Sterling said in Mad Men, if it wasn’t for the clients, this would be the best job in the world. And he’s an account man. But, I’m going to say something quite controversial here.

I like clients.

Honestly.

I’ve generally found them to be nice, intelligent, reasonable – and even creative – people. I also like clients because they’re the ones who pay for me to do what I do. To be creative. And if they’re paying for it, they’ve got a right to be picky about what they’re paying for. But that doesn’t have to mean bending over every time.

We all want basically the same thing: great creative work that’s going to turn heads and open wallets. It’s just that we often have different interpretations of how to achieve it. If our campaigns don’t deliver for our clients, they’re still going to have to deliver to the board of directors. Just like the screenwriter had to the producer.

So how do we get to work together better? Simple. We talk to each other more.

As a creative, unfashionable as it might sound, I’ve always been a great believer in getting to know the clients more personally. In many agencies that doesn’t happen. That’s why we have Client Relations. This doesn’t mean I want to spend all my time in meetings, but I’ve found that the better I get to know the clients, and the better they get to know me, the better chance I’ve got of getting my ideas through.

It all comes down to trust. If they know you and where you’re coming from, hopefully the more they’ll trust your creative judgement. And the more you’ll trust and respect theirs.

I was chatting to the executive creative director of a major network agency recently. He told me that most of his creative department hated presenting work to clients. Of course they do it, but only under duress.

Creating something makes us feel vulnerable. We expose our souls and lay ourselves open to criticism, which is so easy to take very personally. By getting up in front of a group of people, you’re exposing yourself even more.

However, if I’ve produced a piece of creative work I’m proud of, I’d rather have the opportunity to present, explain and defend it myself. It’s maybe part ego trip, but the buzz you get from a positive reaction from the person who is actually buying your work is way better than hearing it secondhand from the account director.

Of course, the flip side of this is that you can crash and burn. But if you do, you get to experience first-hand why. However, if you’ve built up a solid relationship with the client already, the chances of that happening are so much less.

As creatives, if we often have such a negative view of clients, just imagine what they think of us. By engaging and collaborating more with them, their respect for you and what you do will grow. And you’ll be better able to see where they’re coming from and what they want.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to surprise your clients and lead them gently out of their comfort zone. But it does mean that you’ll be less likely to terrify them when you do, sell-in more of your ideas, produce better results and maybe even win a few more awards. They’ll be grinning too and handing out the cigars. And you shouldn’t have to bend over once.






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