Clients are People Too

We ask ourselves these question all the time. What can we do to keep clients interested? Or perhaps more importantly, what can we do to attract new clients? What do these people like, what sort of promo should we send them, how can we possibly take their attention among the literal hundreds of other illustrators and designers out there?

All completely valid questions. I wonder these things on a near-daily basis. But the one mistake I found myself making early on, and one I find that newer illustrators and designers often make, is treating the fabled art director, creative director, editor, etc. like some sort of divine entity or incomprehensible creative genius that we’ll never hope to impress or understand. But the fact remains that no matter how successful these people may seem, when it comes down to it they are just that - people.

Once we demystify the elusive client/art director, and realize that they’re much similar to ourselves, it becomes easier to empathize with their wants and needs. At the end of the day, an art director or client is just a person with a job to do, same as you.

So let’s start there. Everybody’s got a job to do, even ADs, and they want it done as quickly and easily as possible. They’re only human after all. So your job here is to be the quickest, easiest, and least head-ache inducing person to work with as possible. Firstly, deadlines are already super tight in any publishing industry so let me tell you that if you deliver your creative goods ahead of schedule instead of just on time, you’ll be a superstar in their books. Secondly, AD’s have a lot of things going on. They have entire magazines, books, websites to manage visual content for so your spot illustration for that one article is not on the top of their list. Being easy to work with means being self-sufficient. Sending them an email for every little hick-up, question, and small change is a quick way to give them a migraine and land yourself in unemployment.

Remember that people, no matter how successful they are, still have feelings. They can be flattered, impressed, persuaded, or offended just like everyone else. So when you're in contact with them, remember to treat them as such. Your first point of contact will usually be mail promos or email promos. Promos are a great way to show your creative chops right from the get-go. Send them something novel, new, exciting; something that took time and effort to think of or create. Showing that you care about this person’s work, want to be a part of it and also that you’re prepared to go the extra mile to impress them will always make you stand out. Do your research, find out what this person enjoys, and then cater to them.  It’s flattering to be singled out and appreciated, and it will end up landing you more jobs. Think about it this way, ADs get dozens, even hundreds of postcards every day. Do you want to be just another postcard in the pile, or do you want to be remembered?

This next one is going to sound obvious, but bear with me. People enjoy working with people that are enjoyable to work with. (Duh) This couples with my first point about being easy to work with and self-sufficient, but it addresses another aspect of the client-designer relationship - being a pleasant human being. Having great work is only part of the equation, there are lots of amazing artists and designers out there who all also have great work, so why should they keep coming back to you?

With exception, most of the clients and ADs aren’t professional communicators, artists, or designers. Aside from the art directors that transitioned from these creative roles, most clients and art directors have formal training in business, advertising, writing, or none at all. Again we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our clients. They may not know all the theories and best practices that you’ve learned over the years, they may have (unknowingly) awful suggestions and feedback, and they may not care about the lofty subtleties of contemporary high-end creative work because quite frankly that’s not their job to. That’s why they hired you. Help them realize what the best option is for their needs, but don’t be a condescending know-it-all while you do it. Remember that there’s a real person on the other end of those emails.

So here’s what we need to remember about our clients; they have a job to do - help them do it, they’re still just a person - play to that and be memorable, having great work is only a (small) part of the equation - being great to work will keep them coming back, and finally remember that your client isn’t always going to be an expert - that’s why they’re hiring you in the first place. Put this quadfecta of client qualities into practice and you’ll be able to crack the elusive client enigma in no time!

Best of luck, friends.