I don't like it

Mark McArthur-ChristieImagine the scene…

Opens on a smart, glass-walled City lawyer’s office. Two people sit facing each other over a meeting table. They are lawyer and client.

Lawyer: “Now, Mr Client. Here’s the contract for the transaction. We’ve spent the last week working on it and it’s pretty much perfect. You’ll get the company, the buildings and the staff. They get £3.5m over five years, that’s what we agreed.”

Client: “Thanks – that’s great Mr Lawyer. Where do I sign?”

Now. Imagine another scene…

Opens on a smart, glass-walled design agency’s office. Two people sit facing each other over a meeting table. They are designer and client.

Writer: “Now, Mr Client. Here are the designs and copy for this year’s annual report. We’ve spent the last week on it and it’s pretty much perfect. You’ll get…”

Client (interrupting): “I don’t like green. And it’s too negative.”

Writer: “Sorry?”

Client: “I don’t like green. And we need a bigger picture of the product. And the copy isn’t ‘salesy’ enough. And… AAARRGGHHH!!!”

SFX: Agency bludgeoning client to death with a cafetiere.

We have seriously thought about introducing a £50 fine for each time a client says “I don’t like it.” I don’t actually CARE whether clients like or dislike the work we do (although it’s personally flattering when they do – which is very dangerous indeed).

What I care about is whether or not our work sells for our clients. I care whether or not it’s appropriate to the target market. I care whether or not it gets their message over clearly, simply and effectively. But I don’t give a stuff whether they like it or not.

Why?

Not because I’m an arrogant, stroppy ‘creative’, (not always, anyway) but because I give a damn about my clients’ work and its effectiveness. We spend all our time thinking about our clients’ markets, reading what they read, understanding how they think and interact with websites, printed material and visual media. I’d like to think that, after (blimey!) nearly twenty years doing it we’re quite good at it.

We don’t have a codified set of principles to fall back on in the same way lawyers can. I can’t tell my mythical client that green is perfectly appropriate for thirty-three year old Lexus buyers in Penge. Perhaps that’s a mistake – but I think not. After all, human nature and communication is too complex to codify. But people who write copy and design for a living should be able to cast a net around this complexity and understand how to communicate it clearly, powerfully and effectively.

And clients should be happy to let them – whether they like it or not.

Mark McArthur-Christie is a director of creative communications consultancy Freeman Christie


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