September 5, 2012

A few thoughts on the Creative/Project Manager relationship

There is a tendency among project managers who act as intermediaries between the client and creatives to pass information back and forth unfiltered. The creative (me) will submit the project to the PM (you), who in turn passes it along to the client. The client comes back to the PM (you) unhappy about some aspect of the project, and that information is sent along, unfiltered, to the creative. The creative makes the changes (with comments), which are sent back to the client, who STILL isn’t satisfied, and the process repeats itself.

There is also a tendency among creatives (and I’m speaking for myself and pretty much every designer, writer, and artist I have ever worked with) to pour their hearts into the work, and then wear those hearts on their sleeves. We also struggle with the idea of what I call no-talent-hack-itis—which is the belief that, deep down, we are no talent hacks, and that fact will be discovered any minute now. Artist/Vocalist Amanda Palmer refers to this as waiting for the “fraud police,” an imaginary (but, real, in our minds!) grand overseeing body that will—one day, very soon!—show up at your door to tell you that, “I’m sorry, you’re a total fraud as an artist and it’s now time for you to go out and get a ‘real’ job.”

This mix of passion and insecurity results in a fear that if our art is “not good enough,” we as people are “not good enough.”

With both of these tendencies in mind, here is my suggestion: when there is feedback from the client that could be construed as negative, a project manager would do well to filter it for the creatives.

As a specific example, here’s an unfiltered remark on an project I recently worked on:

“In 2011 the nation’s top 10 employers” section: The placement of these stats is confusing. It looks like all 4 percentage stats around the “Help Wanted” sign are related. Can we revisit this area and think of a new way to better present these staggering stats?”   

Here’s a brief summation of how a creative (in this case, me) reads this:

“The placement of these stats is confusing.”

Translation: you, the creative, suck, and the work you poured your heart into and spent so much time on? It’s confusing. Because you suck.

“It looks like all 4 percentage stats around the ‘Help Wanted’ sign are related.”

Translation: In my (the creative’s) mind, they are related. That’s why I put them together like that. Are they not related? Did I misunderstand? Am I incompetent?

“Can we revisit this area and think of a new way to better present these staggering stats?” 

Translation: Your way of presenting these stats sucks. Plus, you’re obviously stupid since you couldn’t see how staggering these stats really are.

This kind of remark leads to the creative ranting in an it’s-not-me-it’s-you fashion (at least it does in my house) about how the client is obviously an idiot for not understanding the placement of the stats, not being able to see that the 4 percentage stats around the “Help Wanted” sign ARE, in fact, related and the rest of the stats are not, in fact staggering.

A better way for a Project Manager to handle this would be to come back to the creative and say something like this:

I love the work you’ve done on this. I think it’s excellent. The client, however, is a little slow. They don’t understand the placement of the 4 percentage stats around the help wanted sign, so they would like to have them separated rather than together. Can you work your magic and come up with a new way to present this information? This data set is extremely important to the client, and I would really appreciate your help.

Here’s a breakdown as to how a creative will read this:

I love the work you’ve done on this. I think it’s excellent. The client, however, is a little slow.

Translation: You are a brilliant designer, and the client is an idiot. Also, I am on your side in what follows.

They don’t understand the placement of the 4 percentage stats around the help wanted sign,

Translation: The problem lies with the client, not with you, the creative.

so they would like to have them separated rather than together.

Translation: Here’s a solution that will solve the client’s problem.

Can you work your magic and come up with a new way to present this information?

Translation: You are gifted and awesome, and I know you can find a brilliant new way to solve this problem 

This data set is extremely important to the client, and I would really appreciate your help.

Translation: These stats are staggering to the client, and I need your help to make them happy.

This kind of communication makes a huge difference to creatives! Rewriting comments—and filtering them—buys tremendous good will with your creative team.

UNLESS!! If the client has high praise for the work, send that on unfiltered. Let us bask in the ego boost.

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