Deceptively Accessible: When Feedback Becomes a Battle

written by: Mike Granetz

March 19, 2010

Confession time. The biggest challenge we face when working with clients is not developing messaging, working up a cool logo, or designing a smart social media strategy. The biggest challenge is earning client trust. We don’t begrudge that reality. It would be foolish to expect any client to sign off wholesale on our concepts or content.

But we also know that our skills can too easily be taken for granted. There’s an inherent “here’s how I would do it” impulse reverberating through the client/creative relationship. Write a line of content, pick a color palette for a website, and there’s going to be someone on the client side who wants to change cyan to cerulean, or “happy” to “glad”. This hairsplitting is part of the process, though at its worst it can bury deadlines and cause costly, contentious delays. Often, of course, the feedback is welcome and even warranted — part of the healthy back-and-forth any client and consultant should have.

Our challenge, and something we diplomatically try to address with clients, is asking that we be allowed to simply do our job. Most folks get this from day one and projects progress as planned. There are those times, however, when someone is set on having his or her fingerprints on every phase of a project. Our line of work invites that kind of involvement.

Why? Communications and design are deceptively accessible. What we do is hardly mystical. We write, we talk, we draw pretty pictures, whether on paper or on screen. Unlike lawyers and physicians, or even mechanics and carpenters, we don’t present distinct skills possessed only by well-trained professionals– at least at first glance. Everybody can write. Everybody can sketch a stickfigure on a cocktail napkin. ┬áNot everyone can decipher tax code or prescribe medicine; when those professionals speak, we tend to take their counsel as gospel.

Not so in our case. It’s comparatively easy to share extra ideas, impress vision, and exclaim, “I took care of this for you guys!” Can we offer our grateful thanks, but also ask that you allow us to get something into a workable status before the duck-biting begins? If that sounds snarky, we apologize, but a bit of tough love is sometimes warranted. We know trust is something we have to earn, but we also know that we need to run fairly untethered to do our best work, and therefore earn that trust. Grant us that, and we guarantee you’ll be pleased when the dust settles.

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