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Courting a Client Through the Proofing Process

I’m sure we can all agree that agency life is extremely glamorous — especially those nights when it’s 10 p.m. and you’re on the eighth revision of a banner ad the size of a postage stamp. Or the time you had to scrap an entire concept because the client said, “It’s OK, but I’d like to see something else.”

When things go off track, it’s always easier to blame the client who doesn’t recognize your work for its creative genius. I mean, c’mon! Your nickname around the office is “Banksy.” You discovered the font Gotham well before the 2008 presidential election. Don’t they know who you are?!

Well, get over yourself because the client doesn’t care.

Instead of slipping proofs past the client as stealthily as possible, focus instead on gaining trust through improved communication. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way about presenting work to a client:

1. Include the Client From Day One
A common mistake is bypassing client buy-in during the design phase and sharing your work in a final presentation. Unless you’re Don Draper, this in an incredibly risky tactic. What’s your backup plan if they hate it?

Take time not only to understand the scope of the project, but also to build trust over time.
At Raidious, before a producer begins working with a client, we go through a four- to six-week process, called “Groundwork,” where we learn all about the company’s brand. We also hold weekly meetings to fill in the client on the status of projects. This is a crucial phase to show them you’re listening to their needs and gathering input. They feel included in the process, which, in turn, will increase cooperation during the proofing phase.

2. Share the Thought Process
I think we’ve all emailed a static proof to a client with an open-ended request like, “Let us know your thoughts!” You’re in a hurry and you want to make sure they see how hard you’ve been working on their project, but you’re setting yourself up for failure with such a vague request.

The client hired you to give them direction and tell their company’s story, and a proof is no different. If you want your client’s blessing on the direction of a project, you had better know how to sell it to them. Explain the thought process that got you to this point, and make sure you include the client’s initial feedback in the story. They want to know you were considerate of their vision for the design. Clients enjoy hearing the backstory, because it allows them to see the bigger picture and gives them a behind-the-scenes look into the process.

3. Request Structured Feedback
How you ask for client feedback is just as important as the proof itself. If you send over a design for approval and aren’t specific about what kind of input you’re looking for, you’re also handing over control of the next phase.

Ask structured questions that allow the client to focus on specific areas of the design, such as typefaces and illustration style. And always reinforce concepts that the client offered in the initial brainstorm — it shows them you’ve been paying attention! It’s also important to have face-to-face meetings or actual conversations as much as possible when receiving input. This allows you to create an instant dialogue that includes the designer’s intentions into the feedback.

4. It’s OK to Disagree
Remember that the client hired you to solve a problem, because they either aren’t qualified or somehow unable to do it themselves. You are the expert, and it’s your job to show a company that you can offer great solutions.

If the conversation about the direction of a concept feels more like a contentious stalemate, know when it’s time to take the reins and move the project forward. If you’ve offered revisions and compromises but still feel resistance, ask what you can do to move forward. And be direct.

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