In Defense of the Junior Client

One of the favorite pastimes of creatives is bitching about the client. After all, they’re “the man,” and you’re the artistic visionary. You bring them sheer genius, and they have the nerve to crap it up with their logo. Idiots! Idiots!

Even worse are the junior clients, fresh-faced and eager, with their shiny new MBAs, always making the lamest of suggestions. “I like it. Can you dial up the ‘newness?’” “I can’t read your 16-point magazine copy from across the room.” “I think the 20-second product demo is being overwhelmed by the 10-second story.”

We’ve heard it all. And while bitching about clients may be therapeutic, it’s neither helpful nor productive. So I’m going to do something I thought I’d never do. I’m going to defend the client. Even worse, I’m going to defend the junior client.

You’ll often hear from clients that looking at creative is their favorite part of the day. And why shouldn’t it be? Their day is filled with meetings filled with serious people making presentations with charts filled with sales data and awesome stuff like that with even awesomer acronyms. When you come in, they get to sit back and watch a hopefully engaging and entertaining show, then comment on it.

But these clients, the ones who say they love creative reviews, they are usually not the junior clients. Most junior clients loathe creative reviews. They fear them.

To understand why, put yourself in the dress-casual shoes of a junior client for a moment. You have a meeting. Your boss will be there. Your boss’s boss. In some cases, your boss’s boss’s boss. In this meeting, the agency will present work. These self-assured, casually dressed hipsters with more combined ad experience than you have living experience, who have had several weeks to develop the work, will spend a half hour presenting it. Then, after giving you approximately 12 seconds to think about it, they and everyone in the room will look to you, junior client, and say “Well? What do you think?”

Why do they do this? The theory is that if they start with the most senior client, the decision maker, everyone who follows will just nod and say “Exactly. I agree 100%.” So they go the other way. Lucky you.

Now your whole goal with this little exercise is to not look like a complete idiot. You definitely don’t want to say something a more senior person will contradict later. But you have to say something. You have to add value. If you don’t, why the hell are you there in the first place? You know that no matter what you say, the agency folks will look at you like you’re an asshole. That’s a given. The creative director will roll his eyes. The account people will argue with you. The best case scenario, really the best you can hope for, is that everyone will just ignore your comments completely.

It’s a tough spot to be in. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it. But I think it explains a lot. It explains why you get a lot of safe responses from younger clients. Things like “bigger logo,” “more newsy,” and “longer product demo.”

Am I suggesting that these comments are helpful or will lead to better creative? Of course not. What I am saying is that we should cut the junior client some slack. Empathize. At least be courteous. I couldn’t agree more with Greg’s earlier post that we need to look at the account service department as a part of our team. I’d extend that to the client as well. The adversarial client relationship is not healthy for anyone. And if you’ve ever felt that the clients look at creatives like we’re hucksters trying to pull a fast one on them, it’s probably because sometime in the past someone did.

Nothing gets produced, and none of us have jobs without our clients. Junior clients get promoted and become brand managers, VPs, etc. So when you’re on a shoot with a junior client, or before or after meetings, get to know them. Answer their questions. Help them out. They have tough jobs too. And you never know—15 years down the road you may be a big Executive Creative Director, and that junior client you knew way back when may be the VP of Marketing for a client you’re pitching.