posted June 22, 2017

Why you should say no to the unconditional yes

Amy Anderson

We’ve all heard the saying, “the customer is always right.” Warm and fuzzy as it may be, it’s not exactly the most factual saying out there. Yes, oftentimes the customer (i.e. your client) is right. But when the customer veers off the path to success, it’s typically better to call it like it is than to ignore the elephant in the room. Otherwise, it’s like dressing that elephant like a pony, putting it in the spotlight and hoping nobody notices. Chances are—somewhere down the line—they will. 

Your clients have great ideas to help you help them. But every once in a while, you’re going to find yourself conflicted by a client’s ask. It may go against the strategy. Or, it may seem like a step backwards for the brand. At some point, you’re going to want to say no. So, should you follow that gut feeling?

Trust your own expertise

There’s a reason the client hired you. What was that reason? It could be that you’re an amazing analyst who will point them in the right direction for future business. Or, maybe you’re a talented designer who pushes the envelope with out-of-the-box ideas. Whatever the reason, you were hired because you can offer the client something they don’t have. Yes, you need your clients (after all, where would we be without them?). But your clients also need you to best reach their audience. Because of this, blindly saying “yes” is counterproductive at best and unethical at worst.

Let’s change settings. Imagine your car broke down. You visit a mechanic who tells you that you’ll need to replace your transmission in order to drive home safely. You then say, “Actually, I think I just need an oil change—that should fix my problems.” If that mechanic takes your suggestion (and your money) without question, won’t you be frustrated when your car won’t drive off the lot?

Your clients (should) feel the same way. As the advertising expert, it’s your responsibility to speak up when you believe your clients are making a mistake. Be pleasant, but be truthful. Before your clients make a decision, make sure they know your honest recommendation. This will help create trust—something 98% of clients and agencies believe leads to better work.

Don’t always play it safe

We all know how comforting it can be to play it safe. But advertising isn’t the same as strapping on your seatbelt and driving the speed limit. Sometimes, it pays to push the boundaries.

If your client’s business is smooth sailing, it may be smart to continue with the same advertising plan. But most clients don’t just want to continue what they’re doing—they want to improve. And your clients likely won’t grow unless they’re willing to step out of their comfort zone.

If your clients often share goals to increase business and reach new audiences, it’s time to recommend something that goes above and beyond what they’re used to. In other words, instead of simply meeting their expectations, it’s time to exceed them. It’s not unusual for brands who take risks aligned with company values to steal the show—just look at Old Spice, Charmin and Taco Bell. So show your clients what you’d really like to do for their brand. They may be more receptive than you think.

Consider this: your clients don’t settle for work they don’t believe in. Why should you? Find a way to deliver what your client asked for while taking them to the next level. Sometimes all they need is a little push and a glimpse into your imagination to get on board.

Talk it through

The customer isn’t always right. But can I let you in on a secret? Neither are you. To make matters more confusing, the line is gray, fuzzy and waving like a funhouse mirror. You should push your clients to branch out, but you also need to avoid overstepping boundaries. So, how should you approach instances where you disagree with the client?

Just. Have. A. Conversation. Tell the client why you disagree, and make sure you’re clearly explaining your very intentional reasoning for your ideas, copy, design choices, strategy, etc. Sometimes, you may need to show the client why the idea is unlikely to work. Or, show the client why you feel strongly about an idea they’re ready to dismiss. Everyone has a different image in their minds, so just getting on the same page can make a world of difference.

If you’ve taken these steps and there’s still a disagreement, see where you can meet in the middle. Sometimes, you’ll need to give in. After all, they’re the ones paying you. But by explaining your stance, you can remind them why they should trust you (answer: your skillset, knowledge, talent, etc.). Just talking it out can be extremely valuable to both sides. The client learns your rationale, and you learn more about their needs.

Don’t betray your values

Unfortunately, there are times when a client will ask you to do something that you disagree with ethically—like writing copy that stretches the truth just a little too far. In these instances, it’s best to trust your gut. If it feels wrong to you, it’s probably because it is.

Your best clients appreciate when you stand up for what you believe in. That means they can trust you to do the right thing for their brand and their customers. If the client refuses to step back from an unethical ask, it may be a symptom of a bigger problem.    

No matter what your role is, you have the opportunity to help your clients better their brands, reach new audiences and meet their goals. Sometimes, taking that opportunity means saying “no”—or even “yes, but”—to your clients. Saying “yes” to every ask is no different than taking only right turns—you’ll end up in a circle soon enough.