By Trent Rentsch
Life, they outta sell tickets. Just when I think I’ve seen it all in this business of Creative, a new curve ball spins in. The latest came from a video-production friend I was producing music for. Now, I’ve dangled my big toe in music waters for years, but I’m far from an expert, so to say I stressed out a lot about getting it right is an understatement. My hand was actually shaking when I finally clicked the mouse and sent the first draft to his inbox. All that was left to do was hold my breath and wait for changes. That’s when it happened. Not more than 10 minutes after I sent it to him, an email came back. “Uh Oh,” I thought. That quick, he must… like it? Yep, he did, a lot. In fact, he seemed beyond pleased… with my first stab! Wow. As the weight of the world slipped off my shoulders, I began to wonder why I expected the worst. It didn’t take long to come up with the answer.
It seems that in the last few years I’ve been subjected to clients who had caught the Creative equivalent of the black plague… “NIT-PICKYITUS.” No matter how hard I worked on a project, there would always be revisions, always! From something as small as changing a phone number to something as large as starting over with a completely new idea, the clients I worked with seemed resolute in their desire to reject the first thing offered to them. To be fair, it didn’t happen every time, but it happened enough that I began to expect it. I also began to question what I was doing wrong. Maybe clients simply thought my work sucked.
Of course I was imagining the worst (although, you AREN’T going to please everyone… more on that shortly). There are some basic reasons that revisions are made; some have nothing to do with you and some have nothing to do with your work… but might have something to do with how you do business.
As I look back, the number one reason for the revisions I’ve had to make is lack of communication. Let’s look at the typical client. If they are a small business owner, they’re probably a combination of owner, manager, HR Department, bookkeeper, inventory buyer (and stocker), cleaning crew, marketing director, on and on. You did notice where I put marketing director in the list, didn’t you? Yes, advertising is vital to get people through the doors, but there’s a lot to get done in a day to keep those doors open. Is it any wonder that things slip through the cracks? You’d think communication would become clearer in a larger company, but often all that does is add to the number of eyes and ears… and opinions. And odds are that at least one important set of those eyes, ears and opinions is out of town until the spot is “finished.”
Of course, someone has to communicate with you, and if you don’t have direct contact with a client, that person is the account rep. Despite the prevailing myths, Sales folk don’t spend their entire day thinking up ways to make things harder for Production. They have enough to do keeping up with the whims of their clients, some of whom do demand a great deal of face time and “hand holding.” If they “only seem concerned with making the sale,” basically their head IS in the right place… that’s why they call them Sales! I’ve worked with hundreds of Sales folk over the years, and while some frustrated me with their lack of focus on getting the facts right for a client’s script, I respected them all for taking on the job… I know I couldn’t do it. That said, the rep is another communication filter information goes through, and if you ever played that party game Telegraph, you know how messed up the message can get as it goes down the chain.
Of course, the problem can be even more basic than a communication breakdown. It can be a personality thing. I don’t care how Creative and talented and skilled you are, you are not going to please everyone. Let me repeat that… you are NOT GOING TO PLEASE EVERYONE! That can be a hard one to swallow, seemingly coming from a personal level, but the fact is that everyone has their own tastes, based on everything they’ve experienced in life, and it’s impossible not to tread on emotional toes at some point. I think Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever made, I know many people who hate it. On the other hand, I have many friends who consider Led Zeppelin the ultimate rock band; other than a handful of their songs, I can’t stand them. It’s hard not to take offense when somebody hates your work, but it IS going to happen.
So are we doomed to perpetual revisions, longing for those rare days filled with puppies, golden sunshine and immediate approval? I’m not enough of an optimist to think there is a vaccine for revisions, but there are steps that can be taken to improve your odds. If communication seems unclear (read: an incomplete production order), insist that it is clear before moving forward. If you find that you have a Rep who habitually gives you little or wrong information, “help them” by offering to call the client yourself to make sure you get what you need. And if the line, “We don’t have time to check it” comes up, ask them if “we have time for make goods” when the commercial is wrong. It all comes down to effective communication from the start, even with those clients whose Creative tastes differ from yours. You’ll never eliminate revisions, but an injection of the correct information from the start will certainly improve your hit ratio.