Designing Relationships Part One

You’ve no doubt heard it time and again: Managing your business is not unlike managing any other relationship. From tentative flirting, to steady dating, up to and including the inevitable fight and occasional breakup, the parallels are quite telling. Without trying to alienate current and valued clients, here are some guidelines that will serve anyone in the creative industry looking to achieve better success in their relationships, be they personal or professional.

1. Avoid the crazy ones

Or as my clever Uncle Paul used to say, “Why are the pretty ones always insane?” A colleague at another agency managed a Fortune 100 consulting client with whom every creative firm wanted to work. They had huge budgets, a well-known and well-executed brand, and an exciting body of projects on which to work.

They were also a complete and utter train wreck.

It was not uncommon to have a brochure in the advanced production stage of reviewing proofs, and the client would arbitrarily change the design and content entirely, so one more or less had to start from scratch. Obviously, they charged extra fees for this additional time, but it was crippling to the morale of the creative team. More than a few talented designers and art directors left the agency as a result. One team member observed that the client was like the incredibly beautiful woman (or man) who knows the power of his or her allure and lords it over all suitors.

Everyone wants to date this Aphrodite or Adonis, but once they do, they realize that it frankly is not worth the headaches. Sometimes in business, as in dating, some people are not worth the drain it takes upon your spirit.

2. Relationships Take Work

Someone once said, “Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is the trick.” If you’re not vigilant, it can be like that with clients and their brands. When a new client relationship begins, the ideas are fresh and there is an energy that sweeps both parties along (affectionately known as the “wine and flowers” stage). After the honeymoon is over, inevitably there are going to be challenges and missteps along the way. Work through these. The surest way to lose a good client (or partner) is to take them for granted and let the work grow stale by phoning in the creative as opposed to keeping it fresh by continually pushing yourself and challenging expectations. If you don’t, there is always another suitor waiting who will.

3. Be Yourself

A friend who was a smoker began dating a young lady who was vehemently opposed to cigarettes and would never consider dating a smoker. During the entire first month of their courtship, he never smoked around her and made a point to avoid having a cigarette before seeing her, so there would be no trace of it on his person. Needless to say, once they got beyond the seduction phase, he began smoking in her company, trouble flared and they split up. Clients generally expect and appreciate the type of work for which you are known. Always push yourself, always challenge the ceiling of expectations, but don’t ever try to be something you are not, in your work or in your brand.