In our world of eat what you kill, why is it that shops like ours always have to do the dirty work and stand firm as the schoolyard monitor telling everyone the honest truth of what they can do and how they can do it? Why can't agency clients just say "no" more often and stop asking for the impossible when they come to us? Because, of course, companies like ours would be out of business if they did.
We know: the art of saying "no" isn't an easy thing to master. Even if your agency ultimately is right about the direction it's going, it's never that simple. Trust me - I like "impossible," so I get it. And, truthfully, if given enough time and money, I know the best teams can make impossible happen. And it is worthwhile for them to do so.
Even so, agencies, especially ones on retainer, tend to struggle with the boundaries of what they can, should and eventually will do when clients change their minds or make new requests. Or, they may suffer from indecision that ends up being the paralysis of a project. Time, budget, and sometimes, even technology, typically counter our ability to satisfy every whim and fancy of what a client desires. Their requests always seem to fall under the category of "more for less." So, as agencies turn to their outsourced production company partners – companies like ours – some words to the wise are needed, as we all keep "no" in perspective.
How to Think about the No
The agency's instinct to please or satisfy can get overwhelming. Ideally, the relationship between client and agency is symbiotic, understanding, and both parties lean on each other's expertise to find proper solutions. After all, that's why the relationship was born. The conundrum or slippery slope of yes, yes, yes lies in the basic instinct of the relationship. One wants. One wants to please. There comes a point, with one yes too many, that it comes full circle and creates damage. It's this tipping point of over-accommodation where the boundaries that are supposed to guide a project, ultimately fall.
There comes a time when an agency must say no. The art of saying no has nothing to do with the word. Simply saying no is never enough and it shouldn't be. Agencies want to be "brand" partners, and partners look to find solutions together. Therefore, the best way to say no, is to show no. You show no in the questions that you ask, the moves that you make, as you consider, scope and execute the project. There are many ways to present this case but most of it lies in these categories:
Time - Production takes time, especially when a high value is expected. Ask: "Do we have more time?"
Budget - More money might buy more time (around the clock) or it might by short cuts (four versions to be built so you can see them all and pick one). Ask: "Do we have more money?"
Compromise - What can we cut? Can we execute with fewer pages? Can we launch in phases? Are we willing to find a compromise?
Reality – These questions are more inward looking: What is realistic? Let's be honest because otherwise we are only fooling ourselves. If I could do it, I would… why would I lie?
Life, or production, would be simple if we could take these categories, plug them into a formula and pull a lever to get an answer. Unfortunately, we all know it's not that simple. Every project has many crossroads at which we discuss time, budget, and compromise. If the case for all three is prepared properly, the answer will reveal itself. In an ideal world, yes is always possible if we have flexibility in any of the above four categories. Unfortunately, sometimes that answer is no we must diligently show why this is the case – and then together, re-set to the new reality. The no's are just as important as the yes's. They guide us, and the project, just as much, throughout the process.
AJ Vernet is Founder and CEO of Rey Interactive, which is a Los Angeles and New York based digital and video production company positioned to partner with agencies, creative firms, publishers and brands as a scalable and seamless production resource. AJ can be reached at email@example.com.
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