"I never want to work in sales, and I will never...ever be a client facing DIRECTOR/producer."
I said these words 5 years ago, to a co-worker of mine. And, they'll never let me forget it. haha. You see, the creative team at most larger market TV stations is typically split into two sides: client facing, and internal branding. I was always on the internal side. My job duties included: writing copy, directing, shooting, and editing promotional campaigns for the station. In a nutshell, KIMT, KSTP, WCCO, or wherever I was at, was my client. The co-workers who were commercial client facing would take on advertisers who needed video content for media ad buys during commercial breaks on our station.
Throughout this time, I'd watch from the outside as different producers working on the sales side of things would take on new client after new client, juggling multiple projects, direction, and taxing rounds of revisions. My co-workers in the sales/marketing video area, were amazing! SO good at their jobs. And, after hearing frustrations over nightmare clients demanding 5-6 rounds of revisions on spots I swore I just didn't have the patience they did, to be able to handle being pulled in so many different directions with clients that, from my perspective (very young at the time), just didn't "get" creative, and were being difficult. I swore that I'd never find myself on that side of things. It seemed way too stressful.
So, naturally...what did I do?
Start my own business!!!
Working with clients.
100% of the time. Haha!
As I was talking with a friend the other day they asked me about my current and potential clients and the pipeline I had in place. I just sat there. Thinking, "Yes, I do keep a running list of people I need to connect and follow up with, but there is something about calling it a "funnel" or "pipeline" that gives me the visual of people being herded and thought of, like cattle." Gross.
That got me thinking...what do I really do? Who do I work with? "Clients?" Ewww. No. In my mind, the word "client" reminds me of the nightmare gajillion revision/snotty disagreement scenarios. Although, technically the word client means someone who "pays another for services rendered." OK, OK....when you look at it that way, I guess it's accurate. But, here is the truth:
I can't provide those services...without communicating and working WITH the person who is hiring me. They know their business, project, idea and goal. I don't. Not yet, anyway. They know what they want to accomplish. I don't. Not when they come to me. And, the same goes for most of the people I work with. They don't necessarily know anything about video. So, it's my job to not only work WITH them, but teach along the way...so that each project is easier and easier, as far as workflow goes. Really, nobody is servicing anyone. It's collaboration.
So, the term "client" does a disservice in my eyes. Sure, I'm technically being paid by this person. But, they are also being paid to work on the project, so...doesn't that make us partners? What is the disconnect here, in the collaboration world? Perhaps money? I hire subcontractors to be on my crews for a lot of shoots, does that make me their client? No way. We're a team. It's no different than any other relationship with a human, really. The frustration comes when there is a break in communication. Breaks in communication happen because goals aren't set, a plan of action isn't clear, or...because we just don't listen.
Listening. Eeeek. It can be a scary thing. What if your project partner doesn't like what you have to say? The direction you want to go?
As creative types, I think it's easy for us to get lost and forget...that if the beautiful idea doesn't align with the vision/goal of your partner, it doesn't matter how gorgeous it is. It will fail. Just like a relationship, or...dare I say, sex or foreplay, right? (Yup, threw this in here...because your eyes were starting to glaze over, I can tell!) For example: you could be really good at french kissing, but if your partner wants to cuddle - it really doesn't matter how good you are at tonsil hockey. They want none of it at the time. Communication is key.
In all my years of TV news, the anchors were, in a way...my clients. As were the producers. The general manager. The news director. Such a varying level of skill sets, and understanding for what we were trying to accomplish. But, what made it work? We never looked at a project as "servicing" someone. Or, trying to please someone. Instead, it was about the bigger picture. The collaboration. The partnership. The love of news. The love of creative.
Do I push back when clients ask for certain things? Nope, not really. I'd rather just make a point of a possible different approach, and the reason why it might be more effective. It's not about me. It's not about my idea. It's about our idea. Our goals. Our project. And, since they are paying me...OUR company.
Because when someone trusts you enough to hire you to contract for a job, that's what they are doing: welcoming you into their company family.
Partners. Collaborators. And eventually (I hope, anyway), friends. So, how about we stop talking about people as if they are simply cogs in a wheel? Whether it's the term client, or user, or service provider. We all have names. We're all human. We all care.
And as the famed musician Vanilla Ice put it so perfectly, we need to, "Stop. Collaborate. And listen."