Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What is the price of YES?

When Brian and I started SquarePlanet, we both engaged in the business having been in positions in the past to call our own shots. It was obvious from day one that this company was different, and it had its own very obvious ethics and reason for existence. We have very strong beliefs about SqP and the kind of work we do. It's extremely important that our clients have the same beliefs, too, as it means that we're all pulling the rope in the same direction.

We worked with a client recently who didn't believe what we believed. It was a ridiculously painful experience, too, for everyone involved.

SquarePlanet was contracted to create visuals for a corporate keynote presentation in grand scale, but it was done so without any care for the audience, telling a story, communicating a message or even just doing something that wasn't regurgitated corporate speak. We didn't have a good feeling right from the beginning, and on more than a few occasions we felt that it was in our best interests to walk away from the job. As it turned out, our gut instincts and intuitions were dead-on right. We should have recognized that the client was never going to listen to anything we had to say, and that the process would be ignored and abused from the first day. We were right.

So, we took the new job with this rather large international client hoping that it would lead to bigger things, and in-roads within the company that would allow us to teach and retrain a better way to communicate corporate ideas. That was so far from reality it wasn't even close. This company just wanted us to turn some wrenches, crank out some pretty graphic with almost no information to go on, say, "yes sir, thank you sir," and not create anything that resembled corporate (or human) communication. They would have been happy with a college grad designer with a few skills with After Effects and a willingness to work for peanuts.

The client blew every internal project deadline by weeks, and sometimes over a month. They barely communicated with our team to even tell us what they needed, and really behaved in a way that made us feel sorry for their internal creative department.

See, they didn't get it, and they will never get it. Presentations aren't about baffling the audience with flashy bullshit, strobe lights, loud music and LEDs. Business communication—no, human communication—is about connecting with people on a human level. It's not about throwing up the same cliches that they have used for decades, and not about pandering to an audience because they think they know what the audience wants to hear. The Marketing department didn't get it. They never will. Their communications team won't ever get it. The CEO and the Board of Directors will NEVER get it. They can just continue to churn out gerbils on a stationary wheel, and everyone will be happy and applaud and agree with everything the CEO says, because it's awesome.

And they will continue to broadcast mountains of white noise to their employees and customers, and everyone will go on being happy.

But they absolutely won't be our clients again, mostly because they don't believe what we believe.

The price of saying "yes" to any project or any client just because you want the work can be ultimately very expensive. Not just in man-hours lost, but the emotional toll taken on employees, morale, your own sanity and morals, and the stress that working for clients who don't "get it" can be overwhelming. Then include the fact that we also have clients that DO understand why we do what we do and appreciate what we can bring to the game. When we take jobs that are bad for us, it effects everything else we do—unfortunately including sometimes at the expense of the clients we truly love working with. We can't let this happen, for many reasons.

In the end, this job was a losing result. Not just because we had more forced hours into it that the client's budget afforded, but because by the end of it, we couldn't wait for it to be gone forever. That's not how we want to do business, not what we want to create for our customers, and certainly not why we started this company.

Sometimes it can be difficult to turn away from clients or projects that you know are not in your own best interests. For the sake of your own sanity and the good health of your company, it's a necessary evil in today's creative business. Doing work that has a negative affect on the company is bad for everyone, and accomplishes nothing except stressing everyone out.

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