This is a long post – and it is worth reading when dealing with a client if you are in Copy, Sales, or Promotions – But it feels like this article sits well here on our regular Wednesday Sales posts.
The hardest part of working in radio is dealing with difficult clients.
Worst yet are those arrogant ones who think they are always right, and claim to know everything.
While some clients pretend to know it all, others can ignore your professional opinion on critical matters.
I’ve had clients who want things to be done a certain way and expect stellar results that I know are not only improbable but impossible – based on my experience, how much they are paying, and who they think they are, and how famous they think they are in their fantasy world.
The hard thing to know is that you don’t know if your new client is going to be this way – so it pays to follow these tips from the start – to cover yourself, and what you have said to them. That way there is no ambiguity.
Here are some tips that will definitely help you deal with some of them, taken from my own 40+ year experience.
1. Document Everything in an Email Chain (Protect Yourself First and Always)
This is the single most important tip/rule/regulation/guideline. You should have this printed in a massive banner and posted on your wall above your desk – printed on business cards and tattooed onto a client.
Because aggressive clients have a way of dismissing your concerns about uncertain outcomes, there will be no argument that you can put forward in any way at all that will convince them to change course when they demand things to be done a certain way.
When this happens, get everything documented into your email and make sure you have copied in all stakeholders along the way. This includes sending a BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) of all emails to your sales manager so they know what is happening.
When things go south (as they will when you do what THEY want to do – and not do what you suggested), you will have ready proof that your professional advice was dismissed and the course of action that was taken to complete the project didn’t have your stamp of approval.
2. Describe Your Recommendations With Expected Results (Setting Up The Rules To Play Under)
Take the time from the outset to share recommendations, strategies, and other inputs and variables via a detailed presentation (or email) that specifies what you hope to achieve with each step as you go through the process. Making sure that you share these documents with all stakeholders before commencing.
This is especially important when dealing with a new client, and you may have just spoken to them – taking the time to re-iterate what you said during that one on one meeting will help to dispel any misconceptions or problems that may have crept in during your presentation to them.
Besides demonstrating your professional attention to detail, it will ensure that your new client will need to emulate the same format when putting forth their ideas and suggestions.
This then also makes it easier for you to understand what their level of expertise may actually be, and also underline errors in their strategy. Thus you can show how doing x will not result in y, and then it allows you to give some push back on ideas that are not feasible.
3. Use Data to Back Up Your Claims (Don’t Assume – Make An Ass Out Of You And Me!)
If you need to – use data. Sometimes you don’t need to – but other times it is useful to do this…
There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you disprove a theory or assumption with the help of data. But hey – I am a data nerd so I love using data to prove a point.
While experiences can be dismissed as anecdotal evidence, there is absolutely no denying the results of hardcore data. Use tools like Microsoft Excel to create interactive graphs and charts to get your point across. I can highly recommend using Dashboards on Excel as it helps me a LOT to get my point across.
4. Put Clients on the Spot to Clarify Expectations (Be Careful Doing This – It Can BACKFIRE!)
To try to mitigate the amount of blowback, or a backfire you might get – if you do do what is asked of you – then request the client email their recommendations along with the kind of results they’re expecting.
For example: I had a client ask to spread out his campaign from 6 to 10 weeks – that meant less ads per day, yet he expected the same results – so I asked for written clarification – and it turns out that expected the same amount of ads – over 10 weeks, without paying any more – NOPE!
So I find it useful to ask pointed questions and hash out each and every relevant detail.
Why? Because if they fail to provide all the information you need to proceed, and you have asked them to fill in the gaps, and they don’t well the end results are based on their failure to communicate, not yours.
Also, this has the added bonus effect of deterring them from making too many suggestions, as detailed changes require extensive work from them – not you.
Which is usually not their working style.
And it helps down the line when dealing with writing your radio scripts as it will also prevent unnecessary edit requests later on.
And when this same client I mentioned before wanted to change scripts half way through his campaign – we had to point out that the cost of production, would be $XXX and then the ad wouldn’t be replaced until the commercial was produced, which might take a day – he said not to worry about it – again everything was via email.
5. Make Your Objections Politely (Vitally Important – You Want to Ask, NOT be Passive Agressive)
When the client rejects your recommendations and then suggests some totally unfeasible course of action, gently push back with politeness.
While it is very, very, VERY tempting to be passive-aggressive. By pointing out your client’s mistakes, you will only aggravate the issue with them.
By simply de-escalating the situation you will avoid unnecessary drama and dial down your client’s hostile attitude.
If you can, take the time to convince them with kindness, they’ll be more receptive to your suggestions.
I had a psychologist say to me once that, in this situation you are dealing with someone who is “confidently clueless”, and by pointing out their cluelessness will “…only make them double down on their folly”, leading to unnecessary work and corrections for you.
6. Have Clients Sign Off on Change Requests Officially
As a last resort, if the client refuses to budge from their chosen course of action, STOP!
DO NOT just go ahead with their suggestions without securing all the approvals from them for their changes.
Clients who think they are the subject-matter experts will blame you when the results are less than stellar.
It’s essential to have such clients sign off on any suggestions and change requests via proper documentation. This is where your EMAIL CHAIN is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO HAVE!
Agreeing to verbal directions is a mistake, and you should avoid doing this at all costs.
Include notes in your emails with the alternative course you would have followed to complete the project. If you are lucky to catch problems in time, you can loop back to these suggestions when things start going south.
IN THE END…
They are the client, paying for a product or service – if they want to do a campaign that you do not recommend, or seeing succeed with them – talk to your Sales Manager, document everything in an email chain and do the best you can – when it fails – you will have proof that you tried your best for them, but they didn’t listen.
Sadly – you can’t win them all.