• Some clients know what they don’t want, but seem not to know what they do want
‘Too often, the thing you want most is the thing you can’t have. Desire leaves us heartbroken, it wears us out. Desire can wreck your life. But as tough as wanting something can be, the people who suffer the most are those who don’t know what they want.’
– Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy
I’m not sure how true this monologue from TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy is — that people who don’t know what they want suffer the most. But I can tell you with certainty that dealing with people who don’t know what they want is excruciating.
If you’ve ever dabbled in the business of selling new marketing ideas or adverts, you will have more often than not run into clients who know what they don’t want, but seem not to know what they do want.
They’re called challenging clients in industry speak, or difficult clients, but in plain English, they’re just bad clients, and they come in all sorts. I’ll limit myself to two kinds of bad clients: the ‘I don’t like it’ kind, and the kind who have nothing to say but they’d like to say it anyway.
The ‘I don’t like it’ client modus operandi is simple. They hire you to come up with an advertising idea and when you get back to them with an idea, they say, ‘I don’t like it.’ So you come up with something else and when you go back, they say, ‘I don’t like it.’ You’ll go and come back with more ideas and no matter how many different new ideas you bring, the answer will always be the same: I don’t like it.
So after countless trips, you ask, ‘What do you not like about the ideas?’ The response you get is, ‘I can’t say what exactly. I just don’t like.’ That’s when you realise you’ve stepped into the vortex of indecision.
The client with nothing to say operates a little differently. You sit down for a meeting with this client and he tells you they want a new ad campaign. ‘Okay,’ you say, then ask, ‘a campaign about what?’ ‘Well,’ says this client, ‘about us, the brand.’ ‘Right,’ you say. ‘I get you want a campaign about you, but what about you do you want to say?’
‘Not me, us, the brand…’ the client corrects you. ‘Okay, us, the brand, what do you want to say?’ ‘I don’t know,’ client says, getting agitated. ‘You’re the creative. We’re paying you. We want a new campaign about us.’
It’s worth mentioning that these challenging clients are within their rights to try and get you to have a stroke. For one thing, they’re paying the bills. Secondly, the ‘I don’t like it’ client in particular could actually be right that there’s something not to like in the idea. Still, though, when dealing with these clients, you do ask yourself how this became your life.
People who know what they don’t want but don’t know what they do want are not confined to bad clients in advertising and marketing. They’re out there in the wider world, too. And I get it. It’s tough to want something and not get it. It’s scary to choose one thing then find out it’s the wrong choice, but knowing what you don’t want is not a choice; it’s an excuse not to choose.