My most common question to clients and potential clients is what I always thought was a simple one: “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?”
It’s strange and somewhat concerning to me that I almost never get a straight answer to this question.
I mean, they shouldn’t be trying to impress me. I’m working for them, or auditioning to do so. If anything, they should be glad to be blunt, frank and forthright with me.
After all, I’m not their boss! If they tell me what’s going wrong, I’m not going to use that info to fire them. I’m going to use it to help them.
Yet time after time, when I ask a client or stakeholder about the most pressing problem, issue or challenge they face, here’s the answer:
“We’re doing phenomenally well… We’ve just merged with/acquired X company and have plans to acquire Y company… We just received X million dollars in funding… We’ve released a new version of our flagship product and it has this killer feature and that killer feature, all based on our exciting new platform of blah-biddy-blah-biddy-blah… Etc., etc., etc.”
As a creative professional, I can safely say that this information is of less than no use to me. In fact calling it “information” at all is being kind. It’s promotional boilerplate, also known as PR, also known as bullshit.
And while I understand why you might relate it to your customers and users, or even to your underlings, I’m at a loss to understand why you would give it to a copywriter or art director and expect them to do anything with it.
Our job is to find out what’s going wrong with your business, so we can use our creativity to clearly define and solve that problem. If you tell us what’s going right with it, that leaves us no better off than before, and possibly worse off depending on how true it is.
And at the end of the day, Mr. or Ms. Stakeholder, who gets hosed? You do.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll tell you where the instinct to make this huge mistake comes from, and some concrete ways to fight it.
Dave Dumanis is a creative director, copywriter, and 25-year veteran of Bay Area advertising and marketing.
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