We all know the telltale signs of doom. All the clues are there in the preamble, or the pre-but as I like to call it.
‘Firstly, we just want to say thanks for all the work on this. We think it’s come a really long way, BUT…’
And so it begins.
Here are my top three tips for dealing with client feedback. Hopefully they’ll stop you from losing your integrity, or your mind.
1. Pretend that someone else will do it
First things first, all feedback is annoying. It’s annoying because it all means more work. But just because all feedback is annoying, that doesn’t mean that all feedback is wrong. It’s easy to confuse the two. So when you’re going through the comments, pretend you won’t be doing the work. That some other poor sap will have to stay up all night, or work tomorrow. This will help you separate the misguided opinions from the valid criticism.
2. Pick your battles
You can’t win them all. When time is of the essence, or when drafts are of the triple-figure variety, you need to focus on which changes to accept and which to fight. This is especially important when the client is being prescriptive with their feedback, i.e. trying to write the thing for you. Sort the genuinely bad from the trivially annoying. This should make sure that you end up being accommodating without being a pushover and that your professional opinion is heard where it really matters.
3. Throw the book at them
You’ve figured out which comments are annoying but right. You’ve figured out which comments are annoying and wrong, but fairly harmless. You’re now left with the tricky ones: annoying, wrong and potentially damaging. What next? To stop it descending into an endless battle of opinions, you need to find a stick in the ground. Tone of voice guidelines are one such thing. The brief is another. A piece of existing writing from a rival brand works well too. For example, a trick I like to use when a client wants to change a piece of writing back to something that seems really safe and generic is to find exactly the same phrase or sentence in a piece of their competitor’s writing. It’s normally quite easy to do and makes the client feel safer about being a bit braver. If you can argue that the feedback contradicts something objective, and not just your sensibilities, it’s much more likely you’ll be listened to.
So that’s that. Providing a service without being a soft touch is a fine balancing act that writers have been working on for years, and will keep trying to perfect. Forever and ever, amends.