Q It Up: Nightmare Clients. Do you have one? More than likely, you have at least one client that you dread dealing with. Perhaps they come into the studio and spend three hours on one spot. Or they insist on bringing their entire staff along to impress them and waste your day. Or maybe they’re revision addicts. Maybe they’re just obnoxious people. Do you have a nightmare client? Tell us about him/her, what they do to destroy your day, and what you do to deal with it. For the sake of saving your job, you’re more than welcome to change the identity of your nightmare client, but let’s keep the story real. Purpose of this Q It Up question? To vent, to remind us all we’re not alone with our nightmare clients, and hopefully, to share some ways of dealing with these people that will help us the next time the client from hell calls.
Jay Rose [jay[at]dplay.com]: For a short while, we had a tradition in my downtown commercial studio. We’d found that the overly demanding, problem clients were usually the less profitable ones. So once a month or so, we’d gather the staff and all vote for some lucky client we didn’t want to work with. Then I’d buy that client a drink, where I’d tell them their creative vision didn’t seem to line up with ours, and maybe some other studio could do them a better job. It was a great team morale builder, and possibly our bottom line was better for it.
(Of course we’d stack the deck. The difficult clients who were also high volume and had good projects never won the election. Hey, we still had to meet a payroll...)
Sean Bell [seanbell[at]nypd.uk.com]: This is going to be really interesting. Can’t wait to read about other people’s nightmares. Perhaps I won’t feel so badly done to. I certainly wouldn’t tolerate anyone who was obnoxious, rude, or abrupt, and wouldn’t have a problem turning work from some people away. And as my studios are at my home, other than perhaps half a dozen clients, I don’t generally encourage visitors. I’ve one agency client who always grumbles about the price of voice-overs. “Well, they only stand there and talk don’t they?” and “Well, if they say it once, why do they need to get paid if the commercial goes on more than one station?”
But my ultimate nightmare client used to hold a senior sales position with a radio group, then set up his own agency, and there’s nothing in the radio industry (and come to think of it, life in general) that he’s not an expert in. He’s now wound down and is kind of semi-retired, which means he has a lot of time on his hands! He’s always patronized the VO, telling them how to do their job, and even after a perfect delivery says, “let’s just try one more, see if there’s a better delivery in there.” I once sat and watched the Mini-Disc counter (session back-up in case the Mac crashes – which it never has done, but the day I don’t back up, it will) run to 57 minutes as he got the VO to try different sinister deliveries of “for a devil of a good service. ha. ha. Ha.” Yes, 57 minutes! I kept my sanity by reminding myself he was paying by the hour. He brings his own VO guy (cheaper) and always wants to screw me down on price: “Well, I don’t want to pay for a full hour, as we’ve only been 35 minutes.” And then once the job’s complete and we’ve agreed a price, he hangs around to chat (usually reminiscing about how the industry was different when he was in management) eating into our studio time. Still, he’s one of the fastest paying clients we have.
Steve Stone [sstone[at]zrgmail.com], Zimmer Radio, Joplin, Missouri: About every five weeks or so, I get the urge to buy some explosives on the black market. But I realize it’s not nice to blow up your clients, and certainly not good business. So I bite my tongue, swallow my pride and don an artificial half-smile when my nightmare client (a nightclub) puts in an order.
My early dealings with Atilla-The-Client went like this: I would spend an hour producing a whiz-bang club spot with all the bells and whistles, megaphones, drops, zips, zaps, zings and explosions. My Audition sessions would look like a football field of Lego pieces. The load bar during mix-down would crawl like an elderly snail on Qualudes. The client requires approval on all production (an aspect of this business with which I whole-heartedly disagree) and prefers to do so through e-mail. Let’s say I hit the send button at 10:00 AM on Monday. The flight starts Wednesday morning. At 4:00 PM Tuesday, I’d get the list of revisions.
Nowadays, this is how it usually goes: the seller puts in a production order on say, Monday. The spot is scheduled to start on Wednesday. I drop everything, write the script based on copy points provided by the seller and immediately e-mail it to the client for approval. Tuesday at 3:30, after not hearing back from Atilla, I produce the spot and upload it into the system. I usually hear back about four or five days into the flight that I’ve got to add something. This is why I SAVE EVERY SESSION!!!! Just when you think it can’t get any worse....
Atilla has decided to voice her own ads....
It’s a good thing I love my job.
Ian Fish [Ian.Fish[at]chrysalis.com]: Great question. One of my favorite things about RAP Magazine is reading an article or feature and realizing... “IT’S NOT JUST ME THEN!”
Here’s my answer to this month’s question: It’s 1990, in the dark days of radio when razor blades and chinagraph pencils littered studios, but somehow you could never find one when you needed it. Your skill as a producer was judged largely on how fast you could bring a 10" metal tape spool to a stop after a full rewind, without drawing blood - and I’m pretty sure we were all called Engineers back then too. In the UK, radio was still young (and so was I), clients were used to working with print media, and I only dreamed of working at a large market leading radio station.
Mr. John was the station’s biggest client and he suddenly decided he was going to start making his own commercials, rather than paying £35 ($80) to have it made at one of the independent production houses we used. I remember him proudly boasting of how he had bought himself a “home recording studio.” This turned out to be a twin cassette deck, a radio shack microphone, and a record player that looked like it was last used around the time of Egyptian pharaohs.
The day his first home made ad arrived at the studios (a day late for the start of his campaign) I could hardly believe how bad it was. Now, I’m not just talking poor writing here, this was bad in every possible way. The speech was an unedited, one take effort lasting 42 seconds, rather than the scheduled 30. He’d even got his own shop phone number wrong. However, he had mentioned it five other times and got it right. Best of all, the cassette was one of those you used to buy for answering machines, 2.5 minutes each side, and just about the worst quality tape available. The hiss was louder than the backing track, and the gentle warble in the voice was not an expensive effect rack in operation, but the gentle stretching of the cassette tape. And my favorite part... on the flip side of this answer phone cassette, an answer phone message... from his mother. Turned out, he’d bought a new tape for his message machine, and sent us the old one with his “commercial.”
The chief engineer refused to allow such poor quality on the air (hooray), and we invited Mr. John in to re-record in our own studio. In house commercial production was born that day at that tiny, middle of nowhere, radio station, and I got re-titled as “Producer” rather than “Engineer.” Aaahhh, the good old days.
Dave Spiker [DaveSpiker[at]aol.com]: I’ve had my share of client....um.....”fun.” I wear many hats so have ample opportunity to accumulate war stories. One time I was in the voice booth doing a VO for a spot. The client was at the producer’s table. He kept wanting variations. Try this, try that. I was running out of ideas. I had gone through my bag of tricks with emphasis and color. By take 20, we were into Bronx accents, Irish accents, and funny shtick. By take 30 (and these are full reads of a 60-second spot, mind you) I was thinking I’m going to have to call in a bomb threat just to get this session over with. I finally was done by take 40-something. My partner did the editing after I had left the room. He later told me that the client went back and used take one.