Why did you hire us?

Last year, Brooke Borg, our company attorney (she’s really good; you should call her), recommended that we begin implementing some new legal procedures. Up to that point, we had always run the firm in an entrepreneurial way, and Brooke felt we had left ourselves vulnerable in some areas. We resisted at first because the whole notion seemed “too corporate.” But Brooke made it sound important, so we gave her the green light to compose new documents.

One document in particular appeared daunting and not in step with our company culture. So I pushed back, saying something along the lines of, “I appreciate what you’re doing, and I know you’re looking out for our best interests, but we really don’t need something that ironclad.”

Reluctantly, she went back to the drawing board, eventually presenting a version that was more to my liking. That’s the one we began using, and that’s the one that came back to bite us in the you know where. It wasn’t a bad bite, more like a nip. But it served as a wakeup call for me. Lesson learned. If you’re going to retain the services of a good attorney, you should listen to her (or him).

I mention this episode because we have found ourselves in similar situations recently, although with the tables turned. A number of clients have retained our services and then refused to take our advice. Sometimes, a member of their staff has a problem with our logo design. Or they ask eight people and get eight opinions. Or fear keeps them from pulling the trigger on a new campaign that is outside their comfort zone (but has an excellent chance of producing the results they want). No matter the reason, it can become frustrating because we think we know better. Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone has an informed opinion. There are sound reasons for everything we do.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve made our share of mistakes. But marketing is our business, and we do it well. (If we weren’t good, we wouldn’t have lasted the economic downturn.)

What’s the solution? At the beginning of any new client engagement, it is incumbent upon us to find out why they are hiring us. Sometimes all they want is a vendor. In those instances, we have no problem taking direction from the client and producing the highest quality work we are capable of within the parameters they set. But more often than not, clients want more. Or they say they do. They want to enter into a “trusted advisor” relationship similar to the one we have (now) with our attorney.

Where things become dicey is when opinions change midstream. At that point, we have to decide when to give in and when to dig in. If a client wants to fine tune a color, no problem. If they want to throw out the results of a focus group because of personal taste, that’s something else entirely. Then we have a decision to make, one based on judgment, experience, training and a dozen other factors. Usually, we’ll take another serious run at making our best case. If that doesn’t work, we all might be better off shaking hands and walking away clean. It’s unfortunate, but better for everyone in the long term.

Brian Rouff serves as managing partner for Imagine Communications. Email Brian at brouff@WeAreImagine.com.

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