Many years ago, my wife and I operated a small ad agency from our home in northern Vermont. Since this was before the Internet, we relied on word of mouth to find local talent to help us, including printers, photographers, and copywriters.
While searching for a copywriter for a particular project, one of our colleagues recommended a guy who had just moved up from New York and was looking for work. The colleague said he had heard that the writer was really good, so we called him and set up an interview with him at our home at 2 p.m. the next day.
He never showed up.
Not a Good Look
Well, I guess I shouldn’t say never. Around 9 p.m. that night our doorbell rang. I opened the door to find a man in a ratty leather jacket leaning against the door jamb. He had his hands tucked in his pockets and was sporting a three-day growth of beard.
“I hear you’re looking for a copywriter,” he said.
I couldn’t believe that this guy would show up seven hours late, unapologetic, with such an attitude. After overcoming my initial shock, I invited him in and my wife and I gave him a quick 10 minute interview, just to be polite. But of course, we never followed up with him.
I later spoke with my colleague to tell him what had happened, and he laughed and shook his head. He had been thinking about hiring the guy himself, but changed his mind when I recounted my story.
We never heard another word about this copywriter, so we figured no one else in the area was hiring him, either. He had vanished into the abyss of the unemployable.
His writing samples, by the way, were excellent.
Relationships Come First
My experiences as an ad agency principal, graphic designer and photographer have taught me one basic truth:
Professionalism trumps talent every time.
Creative people who achieve success generally do so because they know how to build and maintain good relationships with their clients. Everything else, including creative ability, is secondary.
Of course, clients and agencies ideally want to work with people who are both talented and professional. But when they have to make a choice, they choose the latter.
There is nothing more poisonous to a project or work environment than a talented but difficult person. They will endlessly tantalize you with their gifts while never failing to disappoint with their prima donna attitudes, lack of respect for the client, and other relationship killers.
Avoiding the “Difficult” Label
So, how can you — as a photographer, graphic designer or copywriter — avoid the “difficult” label and establish good working relationships with agencies and clients?
I’d start by following six simple rules:
- Show up on time. ‘Nuff said.
- Produce on budget. No client ever wants to hear, “Um, dude, this is taking more time than I thought it would. I think I have to raise my fee on this.”
- Don’t nickel and dime your clients. It is always better to absorb unexpected costs than to annoy the client. I once paid a photographer $5,000 for a job and then he called me a week later to tell me he would be sending me a separate, $50 bill for an expense he had forgotten to include. I paid it, but never used him again.
- Dress appropriately. It’s generally OK to dress casually these days — just not too casually. Know what’s expected before you show up.
- Back out nicely when necessary. If things don’t work out with the client or agency for whatever reason, don’t throw a tantrum or “tell them what you really think.” Word gets around. And the smaller the town, the faster the news travels.
- Don’t go behind your agency’s back with clients. If you are working for an agency and the client tries to bypass them and work directly with you, politely tell them no. You’ll maintain your relationships, and the client will respect you for it.
Oh, and one last piece of advice: Don’t show up at someone’s door looking for a copywriting job at 9 o’clock at night.