Powering the engine

By: Jack Sellwood
Posted: March 01, 2021

At WEDGE, we co-created countless visions, goals, and mission statements for clients based on research, workshops, and brand strategy. Generating these collaboratively with clients was a must because it gave our ideas a fighting chance of being adopted. Convincing clients to incorporate new strategies into their day-to-day was vital too because their buy-in led them to implement and to execute alongside us. It takes two to tango. We needed both client and creative to do their best work.

Often this dynamic was uneven. Like a seesaw, one side would do most of the work at any one time during the project. For example, the client might be hyperactive and collaborate with us a lot in the beginning while we were moving slower—getting our feet underneath us. By the end, they would disengage and turn to other projects. In some cases, we identified this misalignment early and were able to correct it with more frequent conversations and more hand-holding; but in some cases, the dynamic didn’t correct itself.

I remember these projects: they stick with me. The disappointment that an inspiring vision is left without being implemented is defeating. Creatives have a tough role: empathize with clients, their problem or opportunity, and design a solution. All of this is emotional labor because to do good work I needed to find inspiration and passion for the project. Be mindful of this effort and the toll it will take if left unchecked.

Clients can’t be inspired to adopt new visions or ideas no matter how rigorously they were co-created if they’re not onboard for serious change. I remember trying effort after effort to convince and inspire clients to get their rear in gear and come along for the ride. But for some, taking a leap of faith was too scary and they weren’t ready for the next chapter.

As a creative, pull back! Deliver the project as agreed and emotionally disengage. I easily lost myself to clients’ hopes and dreams: I took on all their hope and shouldered it alone. Fruitlessly pushing further and further ahead without buy-in will bring you closer and closer to disappointment and exhaustion.

Despite all my best intentions and focus on co-creating, I had to learn the hard way that I couldn’t power someone else’s engine.

Clients usually view service providers as a panaceas for their ills. They believe a new website or new brand will solve all their problems. That makes sales and pitching easy, but it’s poor foundation for an equitable relationship. Proceed cautiously—start small, deliver something right away, and dig deeper if the client seems ready for more change. Above all else, only power your own engine—that’s all you can do.