THIS IS BUSINESS
“This is business,” whispers Marlon Brando (Carmine Sabatini) to Matthew Broderick (Clark Kellogg) in The Freshman. He’s referring to the business of catering—literally—to people with more money than brains. Sabatini is in the business of serving up...well, if you haven’t seen the film, go rent it. I won’t spoil it for you.
When creative professionals say, “this is business,” we’re talking about one of two things. One is the business of meeting the client’s specifications for a deliverable, like a viewbook or website. The second is the business of meeting the expectations of our client—and satisfying ourselves—that this product will achieve its intended outcome for them: more effective recruitment, more selective admissions, greater media visibility, higher donor response.
When a client brings the full creative team in from the start, they can all work together to spec a product aligned with its intended outcome. But sometimes, by the time a writer is brought into the project, certain key decisions have already been made. Maybe the client has already signed off on the website concept. Or the client has already drafted copy that the writer is expected to work with. Sometimes deliverable-related choices have been made with incomplete information on all the options.
What happens when we believe those choices conflict with the outcome our client expects? Do we go along because the client, after all, is the one paying the bills? Or do we decide that it’s not good business for us to enable a choice we think is not good business for them?
Sometimes, laying aside creative differences, we conclude, “Well, that wouldn’t have been my choice, but I can make it work.” We might make a counter-suggestion, but if no one bites we’ll back off and go with the flow. But when we’re convinced a product-related decision will sidetrack the outcome, we have to make the strongest, clearest case we possibly can for another approach. In the rare cases when I’ve had to do this, clients have responded favorably, making new decisions they believe are more in their business interest. Once, a client didn’t budge from a decision I considered way off the mark; I ultimately declined the project.
All of us creative professionals—whether website developer, graphic designer, video producer, or writer—have had to respond to choices made without our participation, but which affect our work product. We step back. We take a deep breath. And we say to ourselves, “This is business.” In some cases, “business” has to be about satisfying the client more than ourselves. But in other cases, “business” has to be about stepping away rather than attaching our name to a product in which we lack confidence.