What do clients really think about creatives?



Business development, winning new clients and avoiding free pitches.

 Generating new business is not a challenge confined to the creative industries. But it seems to be a bigger challenge in these days of austerity – and when you’re a small creative business the responsibility seems greater still. Most of us working in or running a small creative outfit never thought that business development would be on the agenda. Naively most of us ‘creatives’ thought that, a bit like leaving a bunch of rabbits together, doing good work leads to more of the same. And to a great extent this is true – a quick calculation tells me that in over 15 years of business Thirdperson has only ever ‘won’ 3 clients that weren’t the result of a (admittedly sometimes tenuous and hard-worked) referral.
A new report: What Clients Think 2017, conducted by consultancy Up to the Light, in association with the Design Business Association (DBA), tells us some uncomfortable, but unsurprising, truths:
What does this mean for the creative agency?
Beyond developing new business through referrals, the message is bleak – don’t call us. If you want us as a client you’ll need to spend time showing us what you can do and, oh, we won’t pay for it, and when we do pay you for what you do, you’re too expensive. Ouch. 
So what can we take from this? This may go down as well as an obituary notice typeset in Comic Sans, but I suspect that many small, and possibly bigger creative firms, spend too long showing the final destination of their efforts rather than the journey there. Why is this? Lack of confidence perhaps (that pretty pack shot tells the whole story doesn’t it?). Are we worried that well-honed methodology will be plagiarised if we make it public? Or is it that to some people the creative process is just that – an intuitive creative expression rooted in experience but devoid of an ‘approach’?
Process doesn’t need to be dull
Inevitably, like most agencies, after many years in business, Thirdperson has developed processes and tools that inform and inspire creative results. The difference is we’re not only happy to talk about them but we believe that it helps clients understand what we do. Talking about our approach and thinking helps generate new business – it’s not smoke and mirrors, but transparent logic that creates the magic.
Thinking that I would never need to ‘develop business’ I also could never imagine that the future me would ever be interested in ‘business’, let alone be in the position where I could confidently discuss a client’s business and how a strong brand is essential in delivering business success. 
Speaking in tongues – Design jargon
The survey also states that clients don’t like “jargon”. We creatives are apparently guilty of using words such as “integrated” and “digital”. Jargon? Well, the client is always right of course. I once worked under a creative director who did nothing to disabuse this perception with the mantra of ‘BBB’. This catchphrase was usually delivered with a sly wink – BBB? ‘Bullshit Baffles Brains’ – the notion that if you cloud a creative approach in as much mystery as possible the client will pay more and feel less inclined to challenge the thinking.
But I’m sure that even the most analog of (potential) clients would agree that the best results for any job are achieved using the best tools. As someone who remembers the humble and now obsolete Letraset and Cow Gum, I’m a firm believer that simple tools are often the most effective.
So, the best way to win business? I can only speak for myself and my business, but in the face of a complex brief that arrives with big questions, a simple approach, using collaborative tools which apply logic and achieve clarity is not only the best tool for the job but possibly even what clients want to hear – and from where I’m sitting, maybe a good way to engage a prospective client. 
Dave said it best
So in conclusion, clients hate jargon, not getting value for money and being cold called. We creatives want to feel valued (ahhh, we’re sensitive souls), and we resent doing what we do best for free. The answer seems to be an honest two-way conversation about the brief (if there is one), the challenges, ambitions and even the budget and we all leave feeling like grown up business people. As the great adman Dave Trott once said, “Stupid people think complicated is clever”.