Monday, March 20, 2006

Rushing Roulette

Suggestion for certain clients.* Type “instant gratification” into Google. In .31 seconds (that’s three-tenths of a second), an ad will appear on the right-hand margin of the screen: “Instant Gratification…you can get it on eBay.”

Now you know. If your advertising agency, PR firm, design studio or freelancer can’t give you solutions overnight, the next day, this afternoon or by the end of the week for EVERY project, you’ll…you’ll…you’ll just find somebody who can. Perhaps on eBay.

When one of your vendors is away from the computer for a couple of hours, you resort to e-mail: “Why haven’t you answered my request?” “I sent you the copy draft this morning, didn't you get it?” “My boss doesn’t like the direction you showed us this morning! Can I have another idea before the end of the day?”

And the worst threat of all: “I can get someone else to do this if you can’t get me something by Friday.”

Relax – I’m not going to quote John Ruskin about making something a little worse or selling it more cheaply. Leave price out of this – that’s not your issue. I recognize you’re under a lot of pressure yourself: the project that has to launch by a certain date, the supervisor who’s never satisfied, the division VP who can’t tell you what he or she wants but will know it when he or she sees it.

You’re rushing the creative process. One of these days, it’s going to put a hole right in your career.

If you get what you think you need, when you think you need it, time after time, you’ll end up with something merely good enough – instead of the potential breakthrough your project really deserves. You demand instant gratification and you can get it. What’s the cost?

Author Susan Kirkland says, “It’s all about standards.” How long can you survive in your job when you force your vendors to deliver shoddy work? (Or maybe it’s not always shoddy…but you’re driving some of your best resources to madness? That will lead eventually to bad service. Which you don’t want and neither does your vendor.) You may not even care right now, but “a happy creative does excellent work,” according to Kirkland (and me), and you should aspire to it. It’ll make you look better than getting something overnight and then having to get it redone the next night.

Let’s look at it from your side. A consultant and former Director of Marketing for Doskosil, Grant Bergman, wrote:

Years ago I worked with a small design firm that was extremely responsive when needed, and also extremely good about laying out project timelines and estimates so that I could manage budgets.

We had a fantastic relationship and tremendous mutual respect. When I asked for things in a hurry – which often happened because my own management was unmanageable – the first thing I got back was a revised estimate with “rush charges” factored in. Of course, this used to be commonplace in the print industry as other more straightforward “vendor” relationships as well, but I’m not sure how many agencies are doing it.

I try to be a good client and avoid pulling agencies through unnecessary knotholes – especially the small ones with less flexibility – but knowing that rush charges were being incurred was a useful tool for me to manage my own internal management's expectations. Often enough I could say, “That timeline incurs rush charges and the budget is already tight. Do we really need it that fast and, if so, how should I handle the budget implications?”

You say it’s not your job to keep your vendors (even your creative vendors) happy. Or is it? Instead of acting like a client, think of your role in terms of…service.

In 1989, Ron McCann, the President of Service Management Systems, suggested something different: “The way to answer the question ‘Who do I serve?’ is to ask yourself a different one: ‘Who benefits from my work?”

Certainly, your company does directly or indirectly. Your boss does. And so do your vendors. Your designer, your publicist, your copywriter, your printer…all of them benefit from your work. So they’re your customers too. Are you serving them best by jerking them around?

To paraphrase McCann, a manager who serves his vendors is “one who performs the functions of a good coach – he doesn’t play the game for the players, he simply sees that everyone has what they need to play.” (Do you give your creative vendors everything they need to play the game for you? Including enough time?)

I particularly like McCann’s last line in the section – again, paraphrased: “You don’t get paid for what you do, you get paid for what your vendors do.”

Stop playing Rushing Roulette. Give your vendors a chance to make you look good. You could end up looking terrific.

* Thank goodness, not a one of them mine.


Anonymous said...

The bigger client accounts pay for the right to say "I want it now" because they are supporting your payroll everyday with work and income to your firm. If that work slows down the design firm has to layoff staff that was "waiting for your rush work to come in on a regular basis". Or, the firm finds other clients to fill in the gaps. When the gaps fill in, the first clients "I want it now" projects have to step into line with others.

LuMax said...


Lumax said...

Great Post Today.