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Collaborate instead of dictate

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Chris Blair
Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 5, 2009 at 2:48:02 am

We've been in business for 14 years and have a good roster of clients as well companies we partner with on projects. What I can't seem to figure out is why it takes people so long to actually collaborate on projects rather than just dictate what they want done.

I can understand why clients do this the first few times you work with them. But after the 5th or 8th or 15th successful project, you'd think people would say, "hey...they know what they're doing, I'm going to collaborate on this."

Yet...many clients still come to us with VERY specific, unbending ideas about what they want. So specific as to dictate what color every part of a graphic has to be, whether to use cuts or dissolves, whether to use shadows on type or soft reflections on logos etc. etc. And I'm not talking about changes that conform to branding guidelines because few of these folks practice anything resembling true "branding" in their advertising.

We have a reputation in our region for being able to solve client's problems...for being able to take a project with little focus and turn it around quickly and and at high-quality...for being able to move a project forward without having to wait for a client's review or approval at every stage. And yet, few of those clients ever get us involved in their project planning. Often, we aren't contacted until 2 weeks before the project is due. Usually their concepts are visually ambiguous or benign, or just downright looney. All which could have been avoided had we sat down and discussed the project in advance.

It also seems most clients are extremely literal in their approach to ideas, giving little or no thought to story structure (introduce character, character has conflict, conflict is resolved) or compelling visuals. They all start copy pulled from some windy brochure or bulleted list. In fact, many of the images we're asked to create have little or nothing to do with a brand or concept.

We continually suggest to clients that we get involved and brainstorm about their ideas to help them create better images and sounds, but few clients take us up on it. When they do, the projects are almost always better for it. Some have become long-running campaigns for clients.

So why does it take people so long to trust you when you've proven yourself over and over with top quality work?

I can count on one hand the number of really good ideas we've been presented with in the past 5 years. Yet on virtually every project where the client came to us asking for input, those projects consistently got rave reviews from not only the clients, but the client's clients, the client's competitors etc.

Sorry for the long thread, but I've always viewed our company as being a partner with clients, but most clients don't want you to be their partner. Many don't want your ideas. I'm just befuddled by this approach. It would be like hiring an interior designer and telling them everything you want done in your room, or commissioning a painting and dictating what the artist paints. Isn't the point of hiring a creative professional to take adavantage of their knowledge and creativity?

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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walter biscardi
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 5, 2009 at 2:55:48 am

There are some clients who will always dictate, that's just the nature of who they are. Not much to do about it except deliver what they want.

Just enjoy the clients who do give you creative freedom and decide how many of the dictators you want to keep around.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author.
Credits include multiple Emmy, Telly, Aurora and Peabody Awards.
Owner, Biscardi Creative Media featuring HD Post

Biscardi Creative Media

Creative Cow Forum Host:
Apple Final Cut Pro, Apple Motion, Apple Color, AJA Kona, Business & Marketing, Maxx Digital.

Read my Blog!

Twitter!


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Scott Cumbo
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 5, 2009 at 4:47:09 am

At the end of the day the client is paying you, If they want to dictate every little detail and have you push the buttons it's their right.

you just need to decide if you want their money or not. If you want it, do what your told. If not, tell them to take a hike and find different cilents.

Scott Cumbo
Editor
Broadway Video, NYC


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Mark Landman
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 5, 2009 at 1:18:39 pm

There was a production manager at one of the TV stations I used to work at who said that your situation was like being a deli owner who has a customer that asks for a sh*t sandwich. Being appalled at that request, the owner suggests a nice corned-beef on rye or a BLT - but the customer insists on a sh*t sandwich. The production manager said in that case about all the owner can do is ask if he'd like butter on it.

"Would you like butter on that?", "Pass the butter" or variations on that became code phrases among the crew for bad spots being produced at the insistence of the client.

I feel your pain.



Mark Landman
PM Productions
Champaign, IL


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grinner hester
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 5, 2009 at 2:44:28 pm

It has nothing to do with trust. They called ya. That means they trust ya. If they didn't thumbprint it, they'd not have a job. You can have the most passive client in the world but before showing your product to his boss, he'll always ask ya to make a font yellow then change it back to whow ya had it first. He'll then get to go home and tell his wife what he produced that day.
I place a dead dog in every show for this reason.
The Dead Dog Theory, by Grinner Hester:
Art directors and set designers have often clashed after a night of set-making. Legend has it one clever set designer created for many hours and at the end of a long hard night, literally placed road kill in the middle of the set. The next mornign the director walked in with his reaction. "Well the set is perfect but there's a dead dog in the middle of the floor." The set designer removed the dead dog and was done.
By this, I now (and have for the last 15-20 years), place a "dead dog" in every unsupervised project for view by the client's client. It may be a fat old guy in one shot for a contemporary beer video or an obvioulsy mispelled word in a sea of text. It varies. It's a dead dog though and when the client's client finally shows up after being on the clock but absent for days on end, they waych and the reaction is always "it's perfect but can we swap the fat guy for the 22 year old smiling guy?" or "awesome exept we have to spell the name of the company right.
aaand I'm done.
This allows them to be a dictator without changing anything that I created. It's not about a better product to them. If that were the case, they would have been there during the creation stages. It's about the thumbprint so they can tell themselves how much they rock. In the end, that's what we sell in this business. If they really just wanted a video, heck their son has FCP and a camcorder at home.



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Chris Blair
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 5, 2009 at 3:08:06 pm

I love Grin's theory. I wasn't bitching in the original post, and I certainly realize they're paying for it and we always do whatever the client wants. In fact, we have a long-standing internal code phrase in our facility: "we can do that...we don't even need a reason!" It's from a famous scene with Bill Murray in Caddyshack where the groundskeeper asks him in his heavy scottish accent to "kill all the gophers on the golf course" and Murray thinks he says "kill all the golfers."

I was just basically curious if others with long-standing clients find that they don't really work with you on projects.

I just believe that in a corporate environment where marketing people are now being asked to do what 4 people were doing 5 years ago they'd come to see that allowing someone else more qualified to create something for them is a huge benefit. And don't get me wrong, we don't mind making changes. In fact, we LOVE changes because it usually means more billing. It's the unwillingness to partner on projects and get us involved early on in the process that I've never understood. For me it's like not getting a builder involved in a large construction project until literally a week or two before you break ground. Or planning a new house and not getting an architect involved until you run into problems.



Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Nick Griffin
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 5, 2009 at 3:34:22 pm

[grinner hester] "It's not about a better product to them. If that were the case, they would have been there during the creation stages."

On the money, Grin!

Chris, it's not about YOU, it's about THEM. At some point in advertising copywriter/art director school the fresh-faced kids are taught that they know everything and their take on anything is always the best and final answer. Then as they gain experience in the real world this must become even more true because, after all, they've been "directing" for years.

In many ways with these kinds of clients it comes down to: What else would they do if they weren't there to "improve" the production? Maybe you should provide a dead dog or two.


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Alan Lloyd
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 5, 2009 at 4:20:47 pm

You are one very clever fellow.


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Ron Lindeboom
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 5, 2009 at 5:55:08 pm

Me, I love the clients that have a clear idea of what they want, who come in telling you exactly where the target is, and what they want to pay for.

Me, I am way more of a perfectionist and will usually, in most cases, do far more than what they want. It helps me get things done far faster when they come in with their expectations, than if I try to hit mine.

I like both kinds of customers: the ones that want to collaborate and the ones that want to tell me exactly what they want.

Both, coincidentally, write checks that spend equally well.

:o)

Sometimes, one is more fun than the other and I would agree that sometimes the ones mired down in minutiae and detail can become almost as big a pain as a grinder.

But as an old salesman once told me: the sweetest revenge is cashing the check. (Though I will admit that there are times when even a check isn't enough and we have walked a few over the years, but only a few.) ;)

Repeat after me: "Checks are good, better than no checks -- and I like the big ones that come from others, best of all."

Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry






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Chris Blair
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 6, 2009 at 3:59:09 am

Nick Griffin: Chris, it's not about YOU, it's about THEM

Nick...No offense, but I've been doing this for 25 years, 14 of it as an owner. I think I realize it's about the client and not me. I constantly preach on this and other forums that our job is to solve clients problems. But that's my point with the original post. If a client can save a day's worth of their time and energy by letting a vendor create something that's top quality, why wouldn't they do it?

Don't get me wrong, we have MANY clients that do just that. There are a handful that almost never come in for edit sessions, instead preferring to have us send them rough cuts at various points via email. Most of these clients make very few changes and they're great to work with. A couple of these clients are so trusting they don't even come to shoots.

Again..I'm not bitching or complaining. Like Ron pointed out, their checks all cash. We're glad to do whatever a client asks of us. But we also feel like clients come to us (especially long-term clients) for our expertise.

So what I have a hard time understanding is the ones that guard their ideas like they're gold and their unwillingness to get a marketing/production company involved during the idea stage. I just think doing that leads to better end projects.



Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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walter biscardi
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 6, 2009 at 10:52:33 am

[Chris Blair] "So what I have a hard time understanding is the ones that guard their ideas like they're gold and their unwillingness to get a marketing/production company involved during the idea stage. I just think doing that leads to better end projects. "

It does lead to better products. There's nothing to understand. People are people and there are those who would rather lead and have you push buttons with little or no input. Fortunately for us those clients are few and far between, but when they do come in, so long as we enjoy working with them, we just do what they ask. Those are some of the easiest edits actually because we don't really have to think, just do.



Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author.
Credits include multiple Emmy, Telly, Aurora and Peabody Awards.
Owner, Biscardi Creative Media featuring HD Post

Biscardi Creative Media

Creative Cow Forum Host:
Apple Final Cut Pro, Apple Motion, Apple Color, AJA Kona, Business & Marketing, Maxx Digital.

Read my Blog!

Twitter!


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Nick Griffin
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 6, 2009 at 1:30:53 pm

[Chris Blair] "Nick...No offense, but I've been doing this for 25 years"

Chris-
"It's not you, it's them" was tongue in cheek and I've been doing it for 35 years -- hence my disdain for the know-it-all agency types. That's not to say that non-agency clients can't be the same, just that's where I've seen the most of it.

I really doubt that there is an answer to this situation other than bringing it up again and again with your clients. Give them some specific examples of projects where your input has had a very positive outcome on the final product. Show them things you've done completely on your own. Problem is some may see this as threatening. They may worry that if their client is in the meetings the client or the boss may get the idea that the ones who brought you in are extraneous to the process. I believe that almost all of us here are ethical (and smart) enough to not let something like that happen, but that doesn't keep them from fearing that it might.

Bottom line, this is just one more of the numerous conundrums which are part of the human dynamics of small business.


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grinner hester
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 6, 2009 at 2:23:37 pm

I think linear editing helped me ignore or get use to these varying dynamics. 20 years ago, we as editors did indeed sometimes have to say yes, even when the answer was no. I mean, it's not like we could really make a timing change in minute one of a 60 minute show and still meet the deadline 2 hours away. There is an art to oppeasing and I believe I learned in in those days of being a linear editor.
I can't tell you how many times folks ask for one thing and I absolutly understand it but disagree with. Instead of saying that, I'll respond with a "oh wow. So your saying do this and that (all my ideas now placed as theirs) and then the show is tight and we're done? Man that's why you get the big bucks." Do you know hom many times I've had that disagreed with? None. ever. It's always the same response. A glow of pride as they sit back and stretch feeling like the man. That's my job. I make the best product possible while making the client feel they did. I enjoy it. If I didn't, I just be a producer.
lol
The rougher the client, the more I like it. I get a kick out of folks all like "ooooh you have so and so today!? duuude he's a tirant good luck with that." Then they watch us walk out of the suite 12 hours later huggin' and high fivin'. That's the gig.
and man I love it. In a nutshell. I admit to dictating. However, all of my clients would tell you I'm the best collaborator in town. I'm not. I'm the best dictator around. I simply make my ideas their ideas and execute em before they realize what happened.
I could be a plotician if I clipped on a tie and babbled stuff I knew nothing about.



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Patricia Shanks
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 6, 2009 at 5:48:50 pm

When you're creative, and you know the quality of your work, and you're hired by a company BECAUSE of the quality and caliber of your work, and then they want you to do anything 'but' your work, it's always frustrating. And it will never end.

On the list of things that I do very well is writing. I'm on a project right now that will probably be beaten, bloodied, torn apart and reconstructed into some meaningless pile of prattle by director and committees before it sees daylight. I would like my product to be a genuine representation of my work. Ain't gonna happen.

I have a shirt that says, "Let it go." That should become my uniform. It doesn't serve us to get our tights all in a wad over the inevitable. We would be better served to expect this kind of behavior and treatment, and then be pleasantly surprised when they let us do what they hired us to do. Of course, the reason I have the shirt is that I haven't yet learned to take my own advice. And what am I really doing, anyway? In rebuffing their dictums, I'm only passively trying to control the situation. That and H. pylori will get a person nothing but an ulcer.

Patricia Shanks
Patricia Shanks Voice Studio
http://www.studioshanks.biz


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Bill Davis
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 7, 2009 at 8:55:57 am


Well, before we get too wrapped up in how much MORE we all "get it" than our stupid clients - I'll just note that yeah, while it's easy to manipulate them to get them to do what we want them to do - that too is all about us feeding our own egos in the end.

In order to really serve the clients needs - whether they understand them or not - how about stopping the practice to treating them like children?

For me, a successful client interaction is when that client, no matter how skilled or lame - experienced or not - leaves the studio knowing MORE about how to be good at THEIR job then they did when they came in. And yep, not all of them will "get it" - for many it will go right over their heads - but that's not my issue. My issue is doing my best to make them better at what they're trying to do.

I figure if I can learn how to do that. I'll NEVER starve.





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Chris Blair
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 7, 2009 at 3:09:18 pm

Bill Davis: Well, before we get too wrapped up in how much MORE we all "get it" than our stupid clients - while it's easy to manipulate them to get them to do what we want them to do - that too is all about us feeding our own egos in the end.

I don't think anybody said or even implied any of their clients were stupid. In fact, I think many of the clients that are reluctant to collaborate are some of the smartest. And I don't try to manipulate clients. I try to help them tell their story in a better way based on 25 years experience as a writer, producer and director.

And as hard as it might be to believe, for me at least, it's NOT about feeding my ego. I want our clients to be successful. I want their video or TV commercial or marketing brochure to engage it's audience and persuade them to contact the company. I get satisfaction from helping people, not from getting credit or awards or write ups in trade journals.

Just one example of many. We worked with an agency a few years ago on a campaign. They did collaborate with us, even including us in their concepting meetings. During the course of this, I came across an idea that was inspired by a blog from employees that worked in the industry we were promoting. I wrote up a short proposal and even wrote a :30 spot (I spent many years as a writer/producer). The agency pitched that idea (along with 2 of theirs) to the client. The client loved my idea, especially the copy. The ad was produced almost exactly as pitched. The campaign was so successful a series of TV ads, billboards, newspaper ads, trade journal ads were spawned from it. It won Addys. The agency took all the credit. Never once was I given credit for the creative portion of this idea. But you know what, it really didn't bother me because the whole point of what we do is to help clients market their products and this campaign did that.

The agency knew who's idea it was and they continue to use us and continue to ask us to contribute to their planning and concepting sessions. The spend a ton of money with us. So wanting our clients to collaborate with us is not about massaging my (or anyone else's) ego in our company.

We listen to our clients and always remember that they know their industry and know what works in it. But we also try to get them to realize we know OUR industry and what works in it. Marry the two and you can create successful marketing.

I'd like to believe there are many other company's out there who feel the same way.

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Rich Rubasch
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 7, 2009 at 5:01:59 pm

I agree that there are clients who appreciate collaboration and those who don't. I think it is probably more personality that leads to this.

We are working more and more toward the "front" of the project. Some clients have worked with us and some still give us finished scripts that may or may not work (in our opinion).

Hey. We are in a recession! We appreciate all projects, and we will try to take our skills and apply them to the most mediocre scripts, following the client's lead, but it is certainly challenging.

It is a rare line of copy that I would say was perfect....there is always another way to say something. Same with editing or design....there is always another way. What is the way that will still bring a degree of satisfaction in what you are doing, and still make you some money in the end? It might not be the sweet spot, but move on to the next project that might bring you closer to the "front" of it.

And let clients know that is where you want to be....emphasize collaborations you have had in the past. Showcase them on your Web site.

And remeber that it takes all kinds!

Rich Rubasch
Tilt Media Inc.
Tilt Media Inc.



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adeeb oberoi
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 7, 2009 at 5:28:46 pm

I think one of the questions comes down to: "WHY", why do companies and people behave this way?

We have had many experiences like your company. I believe its psychological. Most companies have a marketing department. In my experience the marketing department or the different people in it mostly have their own agenda and not always keeping the companies best interest in mind.
They are there to make a career, or come up with the best ideas. I have felt in the past that some persons actually feel threatened by my presence as a marketer/producer.

They act as if they are the once that should do the job because thats why they are there. maybe they feel the boss will think, why do I need you if the Production company can actually do the whole job.

Their job is to come up with the marketing ideas and have a production company execute them (at least they think so). This way they can take the credit and secure their job.
Thing is, its so great when a person like this works together with the production company from the start. But unfortunately many of these persons are under qualified.

I do not have these problems when I deal directly with the Boss or Director or even better the owner.

But I recently presented a great idea to the director of a company and he loved it, when he called his marketing manager in, the mareting manager started finding all kinds of negative sides to the campaign I presented. Never the less the director loved my ideas so no loss there, the M. Manager really felt, why are we bringing in this guy... are my ideas not good enough etc etc.

So I believe that although our experiences are not exactly the same, the psychology behind the behavior might be related.
Understanding why they act this way helps in how to approach them or deal with them, It helped me in many ways.

Adeeb Oberoi


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Mark Suszko
Re: Collaborate instead of dictate
on Sep 8, 2009 at 4:31:45 pm

Reminds me of a scene in the movie "Office Space" when the HR henchmen are interviewing all the middle managers looking for whom to cut, and they get to the middle manager who "middles" between the sales people and the engineers of the company. I won't try to repeat the scene here, rent the movie or you tube it. But it often boils down to a need for the client people to each put their individual "stank" on it.

Like Grinner, I've done my share of zero-frame trims and removals of deliberately placed "give-away" items placed there so the customer can feel like they made a contribution. I have had some clients that came in and wanted to dictate every shot to the frame, but after one session, invariably, they say: I know you know what you're doing, here's the notes, go crazy and call me when you have a rough cut to show". I like to think that happens because I'm good, but also, I educate in little ways along the way little one-liner bits that put what I'm doing into a context that shows I'm applying actual theory and industry conventions to the work... that I have a REASON for everything I do. When they leave the suite, they've been subtly educated in a way that makes them sound good to the boss as they defend or explain why we did some particular thing in that way. And so we build up some trust.

If anything, I now have too MUCH of a good thing, in that I get so much autonomy on some jobs that are ill-defined, I'm not sure I've done what they want but I can't get them to come review anything until a master is ready to dub. If I screw up, it then means a lot of re-do work. Fingers crossed, nothing catastrophic yet.



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