Why aren’t creative presentations more fun for clients?

May 22, 2014

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“Does anyone remember laughter?” For some reason, Robert Plant ad-libbed the question during Led Zeppelin’s classic rock anthem, Stairway to Heaven. It’s a wincing sort of line, now relegated to music trivia.

I was reminded of Plant’s exhortation, however, during a recent creative presentation to a client. Bit of set up. On WebEx, our audience was an unseen entity. This is seldom a good thing, like talking to a brick wall. Still, my team had done an exemplary job creating and executing campaigns and I had high confidence going in. After the preamble from the account person I launched the artillery. Sometimes it takes me a minute or two to get my mojo but once I’m rolling it’s like dealing cards. Ace. Ace. King. Boom! God, I love that feeling.

When I completed the volley I looked at my colleagues, valuing their reactions in lieu of clients I could not see. (This always makes me feel the way a dog must after doing tricks for his master.) Thankfully, my team nodded in the affirmative. Good boy, Steffan!

But from the dreaded Polycom: Silence.

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Nervously, the account person asked if everyone on the line was still with us. After an interminable silence: “Yes… proceed.”

Okayyyy. I guess that’s a positive reaction. Beats “we’ve heard enough.” And yet, like any creator showing his wares I crave so much more. But like any professional you soldier on. Surely, the next campaign will get a reaction. When the client sees those blessed ad like objects then…

Then they will provide some muted feedback and get back to us. Which is more or less what happened. Which is more or less what always happens. In fact, one of the clients had actually dropped off the call at some unknown point during my presentation.

Sigh.

I ask you: Should not seeing creative be the most exciting part of any marketer’s day? Isn’t that the good part? It is for me, at least I want it to be. Desperately.

Alas, client expectations breed fear and anxiety. Even the most enthusiastic agency executives have built a tolerance for it. Perhaps naively, the best of us hope for the best. But a muted or concern-filled reaction is frankly the norm. Even the greatest ideas are met with frowns or, if we’re lucky, polite consideration. We all know how Chiat Day’s “1984” commercial for Apple was at first poorly received. We all know Van Gogh died poor and insane.

What a freaking shame. I think what we do is magical and fun… That is until I’m brought down to muddy earth by frowns and polite consideration. I guess I am a fool. For I always think next time will be different. Does anyone remember laughter?

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8 Responses to “Why aren’t creative presentations more fun for clients?”

  1. What you do is magical and fun. So make it magical and fun. Don’t be focused on the outcome (feedback), but rather how you approach what you love to do! If you have a fun time presenting, then you will not need the approval of your comrades, or anyone..
    I like your writing, very good at telling stories :)

  2. ksfinblog said

    You are making me nervous. Just a polite frown…… That’s a bit harsh for the poor fella trying so hard

  3. Great blog – thanks for sharing – totally agree – would love to see more than a affirmative nod, a hidden smile – it would make my day to see people laughing along with me during a creative presentation, after all “Seven days without laughter makes one weak!”

  4. AJ said

    I totally share your frustration here Steffan. Sometimes you and I shared it person. Now that I’m on the client side it makes a little more sense to me. (Doesn’t suck any less though). There are so many aspects to evaluating creative work, and the question the client team is focused on isn’t “do I like it right now?” but “is it right for us over time?” It takes a client team with a strong working dynamic to trust that if they’re enthusiastic about something now, they can decide later that it’s not their recommendation without looking foolish. As an ECD, you’re evaluated primarily on creativity. Client side execs are evaluated on their judgment.

    A reputation for good judgment is hard to gain, easy to lose. When you’re afraid of your own team or boss, it’s safer to play the “proceed” card. I guess what I’m saying is it’s not a reflection of your skill and creativity. You’re awesome. It’s a reflection of the client team’s trust in each other and confidence in themselves.

    • Steffan1 said

      Thank you, AJ for the thoughtful response and your readership in general. Having been on both sides, your perspective is immensely valuable. Still, it will never be totally easy dealing with stone-faced audiences. See you soon I hope! -SP

  5. Been there, sigh! Presenting without the benefit of body language is nearly impossible. Maybe we all need to get back to face-to-face, or at least Skype. But… I think it’s not true to assume CDs are focused on creativity alone. Hopefully, not! I see everything I do and present through the lens of brand strategy. Perhaps looking for approval is not the goal – but an open dialog on what one campaign will communicate or achieve might get some discussion going. With my clients, this makes the best meetings. Approval comes once the comfort zone is reached, hardly ever on the first look.

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