Five things your client shouldn’t have to tell you

As many of you know, I’ve spent most of my career as an inside comms guy, not an agency flack.  As such, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a good number of service providers of various stripes. Consultants, suppliers, contractors… I’ve seen them all. And I’m blown away by some of what I’ve seen over the years.

So, in the spirit of sharing and professional development, here’s a brief list of things the client (in these cases, me) shouldn’t have to tell you. Oh, and so we’re clear, I’m writing largely in the present tense but these observations are based on a few years’ worth of experience in a few different outfits. If you’re one of my contractors now, please don’t assume I’m talking about you (though you may want to run through the list and make sure you’re clear, just in case!).

5) Do at least a wee bit of homework – A hallmark of my career to date has been working for slightly confusing organizations. When I was with an NGO it was a strange NGO with a less than obvious mandate. When I worked in government it was for an arms-length agency, not a central department. My current gig is with a non-profit/bargaining agent/professional association. I realize that puts outside folks at a slight disadvantage; none of these outfits really fit the convenient boxes we so frequently construct to help us rationalize the world. You know what? Not my problem. At least not when you’re cold calling me. Don’t tell me your CMS solution is perfect for small businesses when my organization is a registered non-profit. Don’t talk about how wonderfully your direct mail services work for reaching my NGO’s membership when we’re not a membership-based organization. ESPECIALLY when you’re cold calling. Make me feel special. And more importantly, don’t pretend. If you didn’t do homework, don’t write your pitch as though you can really relate to the challenges my team faces. You can’t.

4) Remember the little things – We in the social media sphere are especially guilty of this, I think. We love to talk about strategies. Paradigms. Revolutions in communication theory. With good reason, I think. But if you come back to me with a pitch or a report that has nasty formatting, or is riddled with typos, it doesn’t matter how brilliant your theories are. Because as far as I’m concerned, you’re sloppy and you don’t have enough respect for me as a client to make sure everything looks professional. It’s a slap in the face and it’s a good way to ensure you don’t get any follow up work from me. Ever.

3) Set deadlines. Then meet them – Consultants have a reputation, sometimes, of looking for their next paycheque before they’ve earned their first. Nothing cements this more quickly than a proposal without timelines. If I’ve asked you to pitch me on something that should take a month, give me a proposal for work that lasts a month. Relax, if you do a good job, you’ll probably get more work from me. And please, please, please don’t forget the second half of this point. Meet the deadlines. If you can’t, explain why. And it better be a really good explanation. “I wasn’t realistic in the proposal” or anything that smacks of that won’t cut it. Look, I’m not an idiot. I know that shit happens. And I know that more times than not, it’s my fault you missed a deadline. I’ve got an approvals chain here too and, unlike the chain at your end, we don’t have the monetary incentive to get things done like you do. But tell me that going in. Revise your timelines accordingly and make sure you’re not holding things up for no apparent reason. Double standard? Maybe. But that’s the client’s perogative, I’m afraid.

2) Be honest with me. And yourself – I have a lot of ideas. I have ways I think things could work. If those ideas are stupid, please tell me. You’re not paid to be a sycophant. I don’t want to proceed down the path I envisioned only to have things  go tits up all because you figured your paycheque was more secure if you did what I wanted. You’re being hired for your knowledge – use it. But, as is often the case, there’s a flip side to that. Don’t scuttle my ideas just because they aren’t yours. Beacause being totally locked into your way of doing things isn’t any better than mindlessly trumpeting my way. If I tell you I’m leaning toward an open-source CMS, don’t just tell me that your proprietary system can do the job, tell me why it’s a better option.

1) Spell my name right – That goes for my organization’s name and acronym too. You’d figure this would go without saying but here it is, at the top of my list. Mind boggling.

1 comment

  1. An addendum to #5 might be, please read my emails all the way through. I’m not writing you because I’m lonely or bored. The information is probably pertinent to your job.

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