I think of my clients as being like orchids, precious and occasionally a little delicate. They require light (or enlightenment), the right kind of nourishment and a wee bit of pampering. Some like special foods and drink but, in these frugal times, it’s more likely to be Costa Coffee than Claridges. At their best, clients – and orchids – give richness to our lives.
In most cases, your client has commissioned you because there’s synergy. The client not only likes your proposals but also believes that you can work well together.
The art form is to ensure that expectations on both sides continue to be matched. Honesty is paramount. Keep your skills up to date and be prepared to put in the hours. Create the fairy dust they cannot produce for themselves..
There are well known bear-traps of course. Some clients are essentially uncomplicated beings. All they want is a positive story on the front page of the Daily Telegraph, no matter that their product is a basic margarine with not one redeeming health feature. It’s a waste of time to point out that potential purchasers probably take the Express. It has to be the Telegraph, obviously, because that’s what the chairman reads. As the little meerkat says ‘Simples (kchk)’.
I thought this was an old-fashioned concept – surely we have moved on – but variations still occur. Recently, a US business school with a small London presence, well down the league tables overall, wanted coverage only in Business Week and the Financial Times, irrespective of the fact that there was no news story, no ground-breaking research, and a founder who might not wish to discuss his vision. Oh, and the client wanted our success to be reflected in enhanced registrations. And the budget was barely discernable to the naked eye. We asked politely if the client thought potential students were reading these publications but were informed that they should be. Vivid London was scrupulous in stating firmly that no guarantees could be made for coverage, much less in these top titles and so the client went with a bigger agency which, we suspect, took the pitifully small fee and ran.
In a purely consultative role, one is sometimes required to be guru and also therapist. I recommend that consultants do not encourage intimacy. It will probably be an embarrassment to the client later when they are feeling stronger that you know so much about their softer side. I once had to draw a line when a client whose waistband resembled the equator confided that he was worried, not about his weight, but about his hairline. We were heading into confessions of a racy youth and the regrets of middle age. We don’t go there.
Sometimes clients veer towards the tasteless or even something downright bad for them. In the former case, that’s fine: they are over the age of consent and they are paying. Where it is not in their best interest, you can give advice, if necessary robustly. Where you or your organisation are compromised or undermined, you must think carefully about any ongoing relationship.
Look after your better houseplants. Tend them, prune them, enjoy the flowering period – and with luck they will become perennials.