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How to defend work

This page is a compilation of all my tips on how to defend work. I thought it would be more useful to have it all in one place as a resource. I’ll keep adding to this page as I write more tips and – who knows – I may even offer it as a download-able PDF at some time in the future.

Can you make the logo bigger?

Clients have to say this. It’s the law. I used to think it was just a stupid client cliché until I had my own company a few years ago. I actually had to sell stuff and make my brand famous. So I did a few ads for myself and do you know the first question I asked? Yup! “Should I make the logo bigger?” It’s a very natural reaction and it comes from the fear of people not noticing you. I suppose it’s just like people being a bit too loud when they’re introduced to a bunch of strangers – it’s an insecure reaction.

There are a number of important points for keeping the logo cute.

Firstly, the size and boldness of a graphical element affects the way it communicates. If it’s small it whispers and if it’s big it shouts. Some brands are shouty like a market stall merchant. And that’s OK. They have something to sell NOW! If your brand isn’t a cheap salesman, don’t let it shout.

There’s also the fact that there are a number of elements on the page: the headline, the image, the copy, the call to action, the legal gumf, the logo and the strapline. All these have to be balanced properly. When you change the dominance of one of them, it affects all the others.

Another thing to consider is the punter’s point of view. When they see your piece of work and are arrested by how compelling it is in terms of messaging or interaction – they aren’t going to stop there. If your communication has done its job and they want what you’re selling, they’re going to look to see who’s selling it and how they can get their hands on it.

And, finally, what if they’re right? Don’t just bang your fist on the table, say ‘no’ and flounce out of the room like a precious artisan. The client may actually have a point. Consider it!

Can we take this bit from Concept 1 and mix it with Concept 2?

Let’s face it – Frankenstein’s monster didn’t have a very happy life. His heart (or whoever’s heart was thrust into his patchwork torso) may have been in the right place at the beginning but it all went to pot when he faced the public. Likewise, a cobbled piece of communication is unlikely to be as effective as one that was created as God intended.

But first, let’s put ourselves in the client’s position. They see that concept 1 has a really vibrant visual and that concept 2 has a really compelling headline thought. They want both of these things to make sure their communication gets noticed and, in turn, the masses whip out their wallets and help them reach this quarter’s sales figure. The client isn’t looking at awards, elegance or creative integrity. They’re looking at their bottom line.

The truth is, the client doesn’t understand all the thinking that led to the creative execution. They don’t know that you discounted countless ideas and spent time refining the thought you are placing before them. They don’t see the importance of a leaving an idea intact. It’s up to you to help them understand that your thinking is solid. They’ve been looking at your concepts for 3 minutes. You’ve been living with them for a week.

The way to handle it is to refer back to the initial brief that they (hopefully) agreed with. With any luck your concepts will have answered it. If they suggest any amalgamation of concepts ask them what it is about each of the elements that they like and dislike. Ask them what’s missing from the ideas in front of them that makes them feel short-changed. Then take this information to help them form a re-brief. Then you can go away and come up with something that is designed to fit their needs perfectly and can keep both client and creative happy. It may be more work, but it’s a hell of a lot better than releasing another unloved monster into the world.

The idea is too negative, we need to say something positive

If you’ve heard this one before, gather round for a group-hug. Repeat to yourself “I am a good person and I deserve good things” ten times into the mirror with the biggest smile on your face. Because positivity is everything, isn’t it? Bollocks!

The truth is that our job is to dramatise the benefits of the product and you don’t get much drama with positive thinking. Look in the newspaper – how many of the stories are positive? And would you read them if the headlines were “Foreign diplomat successfully files an honest tax return” or “TV preacher remains faithful to his wife”? It’s just not very interesting. Even the lightest Disney princess film has some kind of bad shit in it. Too much saccharine makes people feel nauseous.

And if that doesn’t work, get biblical on their ass. What about the 10 Commandments? Did Moses say to the Lord “Can we just put a positive spin on that? Maybe just say that it’s better to let people live or something”? No. The Almighty had some important points to communicate in a memorable way so he started them all with ‘Thou shalt not’. In the same way that you would stop a toddler from licking an electrical socket with a loud, firm “NO!”

Quite simply the most important thing is what the overall message of the communication is. What does it leave the reader with? If it’s a greater propensity to buy the product, bingo!

We can’t run that! It’s going to offend people!

In these overly-sensitive times, it’s difficult to make a cup of tea without offending someone. I once got beaten up in the street by a Hare Krishna for disagreeing with his theory about the transmigration of souls (honestly!). The unfortunate truth is that there’s an army of Daily Mail readers sitting with itchy right hands desperately looking for a subject for their next complaints letter.

When you’re creating a piece of communication, there’s only one group of people that matter; your target audience. The rest of the world can bugger off. They aren’t the ones who buy the product you’re selling. If you upset them, it won’t make even the slightest dent on sales. Your client’s bottom line will not be affected and they’ll still be able to hit their quarterly targets. For the right product, a bit of controversy may even generate some much-valued PR and increase your product’s status amongst your target.

If you want to create something that’s acceptable to everybody, you’re going to create some pretty bland wallpaper. It won’t offend anybody because it won’t get noticed by anybody. Good work gets inside people and provokes a reaction.

But another company could put their logo on that!

The simple answer to this is “But they haven’t. It’s your logo on there!”This client comment is usually not an issue with the creative work at all but with the proposition on the brief. Most products aren’t entirely unique in their market and don’t have many differentiating factors. So I suppose, in fairness, any claim about a generic product can be said by any of the companies that make it. However, claiming one of these points and owning it can still be powerful.

Volvo succeeded in owning the idea of safety in the 1980s. They weren’t actually the safest car on the road but they talked about it so consistently that safety was the first thing you thought about when you saw the Volvo logo. Lots of other car manufacturers could have said the same thing – and a few of them had more right to say it – but they didn’t.

There is sometimes another reason for this client comment. The client may feel that there is not enough of their company branding on the communication piece. But stopping heavy-handed branding from smothering an idea is a whole different issue that I’ll save for another day!

2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Mark Pollard / Jun 19 2009 10:52 am

    Just came across this 2 years after you wrote it. Will definitely share!

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