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Old War

History is spotted with rivalries. Labor versus capital. Communism versus Democracy. Bears versus Packers.

There is another Cold War of sorts I notice in design. Creative versus what I guess you can call either Accounts, Marketing, or just “suits.”

I saw this conflict raise its head recently. The place I am freelancing now recently saw the departure of a talented and successful Creative Director, a casualty of this battle.

Success was not enough to save this Creative Director. Upon taking the helm, the studio had six designers and few clients. Upon his departure, they had finished two major, high profile rebrands, and were taking on another. When I arrived, the studio was so busy that freelancers like me were working in the hallway because there was no room in the studio.

His departure was sudden, and left the studio where he was quite popular shaking with anger, and questions.

Unfortunately I was not present the day of the news. There was an “emergency huddle” (you know it is bad when the good hair from upstairs makes an appearence) and questions that inevitably don’t get asked. The studio was stunned. Even when the management asks “are there any questions?”, we all become shoe-gazers for fear of our jobs. The standard insight was that he “didn’t get along” with the “people upstairs.”

All true.
And I knew it. I saw it.

It was beautiful. He was actually being a real creative advocate.

I remember we were looking at some logos for a credit card company. We invited down the Account person to look at the work with our dear, departed Creative Director. Almost immediately there was tension. With waves of a hand, Account was discounting work, talking about what the client wanted (or thought they wanted). She was raining on the presentation. It was as if we were going to be talked into a creative corner, with nowhere to turn but the most mundane of work. It was daunting.

It was then that the Creative Director said what I’d always wanted to hear.

“They don’t know what they want. That is our job. It is what we do. We figure that out.”

Just a few sentences. And Marketing shut up. For once.

He stuck up for us. Not for any particular design, but for all of us as creatives.

Now maybe he could have been more diplomatic; played the politics better (He gritted his teeth a bit).

But a few weeks later, the sum total of his “behavior” wrote his ticket out.

His replacement was a perfectly nice, talented person—certainly someone whose personality is more fitting to �playing ball’ with Management and Accounts. But I still know a good person was let go.

I guess the lesson is that talent doesn’t always win out. The work you do is only a small part of the politics that has to take place.

I’m not trying to martyr the CD, or raise a statue in his honor. He had his flaws for sure, but so do we all.

Sadly, it is never enough to put your head down and do good work.

It is a business. It is THE business. Creatives do not rule the roost like we would like to think. Players have to get along with coaches, even though they are the ones who score the points.

I don’t know what drives this conflict. Perhaps it is self-importance. We all tend to regard our work as most valuable. It is an issue of territory and respect. We Creatives think we can perfectly well digest the clients needs, the audience, the market, etc. without Account bearing down on us and showering us with reports we don’t read. And Account thinks is has just as much taste and sensibility to comment upon the work of a bunch of wannabe artists.

We peer at each other across the office, and far too often fail to see the bigger picture from the other’s vantage point. For instance, why did each of us end up in the career? What was it that originally attracted us to work at the agency?

I think deep down we both need each other, and want each other: Creative and their work makes the Account person’s job “cool” and “less boring.” The presence of Account represents that the work the Creatives work on is higher profile, and prestigious. I think our relationship is more symbiotic than we think.

Maybe that is the solution to this ongoing silent conflict: understanding each other. It is not enough to gather at the local Mexican Restaurant for drinks every two weeks for a detente. Management-enforced “team building” isn’t going to do it either. Unlike Berlin, this wall is likely to remain up. We will do better to learn to live with it, than continue to pray for its fall.

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ARCHIVE ID 2557 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Mar.08.2006 BY Jimm Lasser
Melissa Feudi’s comment is:

RIGHT ON. a lot of time i feel as if the account people or managment people are completely unnecessary, but then again, i am awfulw with my bills and have a ard time staying on track. I, however, do not tell the "suits" how to talk on the phone with their client, or how to bill them correctly. why should they art direct us when they have no formal training in design? there are too many wanna be art directors up there that believe that we are just like the computers we work on.

On Mar.08.2006 at 11:47 AM
John S’s comment is:

You're right Jimm: ideally Creative and Accounts should inform and be informed by one another in a mutually supportive relationship. To achieve this there's got to be an appreciation of "the other's" contribution and the difficulties they face. It's too easy to get polarized and stereotyped as prima donna creatives / philistine accountants.

I'm fortunate to have an interdisciplinary job where I do design, IT, marketing, and financial analysis. Maybe that makes me a jack of all trades, but it does help me see past the barriers that often exist between departments.

On Mar.08.2006 at 01:22 PM
Spencer Cross [5000!]’s comment is:

These are the types of conflicts that lead me to finally start my own studio. I've never been anywhere that the creative services department and the suits existed in a mutually supportive environment, and it drove me nuts. And, unfortunately, that relationship does seem to skew towards the suits more often than not. However, I always found, and you touch on it as well, that there was often an equal unwillingness on the part of the creatives to understand why they needed to satisfy any of the needs of the non-creative staff. That certainly feeds the fire.

On Mar.08.2006 at 02:29 PM
Spencer Cross [5000!]’s comment is:

These are the types of conflicts that lead me to finally start my own studio. I've never been anywhere that the creative services department and the suits existed in a mutually supportive environment, and it drove me nuts. And, unfortunately, that relationship does seem to skew towards the suits more often than not. However, I always found, and you touch on it as well, that there was often an equal unwillingness on the part of the creatives to understand why they needed to satisfy any of the needs of the non-creative staff. That certainly feeds the fire.

On Mar.08.2006 at 02:30 PM
Spencer Cross [5000!]’s comment is:

Sorry 'bout that double post. The first one gave me an error message, didn't realize it had posted.

On Mar.08.2006 at 02:37 PM
rich melcher’s comment is:

I’m a graphic design student and also working as a graphic designer for an architecture firm (it’s my first job as a designer).

Anyway, it seems that during the initial phase of a project, the designer is either given (or must define) the scope of work.

Just like size & type of paper, project timeframe, etc., shouldn’t a project’s budget be one of the factors to which a successful design responds?

Certainly there will be exceptions, but as a general rule, it seems like that would be a reasonable (and fiscally responsible) approach.

Again, I’m new to this vocation, so please shed some light on this. I’d like to know what’s up with budgeting and design…and how that works in firms or companies that have a design department.

(FWIW, as far as our architectural projects go, most cost us money, and we rely on a few “cash cows” and [rather profitable] consulting to keep the ship afloat.)

On Mar.08.2006 at 03:23 PM
Rob’s comment is:

Seems to me that the CD had no respect for the client or the AE. Maybe he needed to have a more direct relationship with the client to better understand what they needed. The AE's job is to express the client's wants and needs, and if there's a disconnect, fix it.

Having been in a position of working with AE's/Marketing, I was always careful to express the work in terms they, and the client, would understand. Explain why the solution(s) worked toward the brief and while it wasn't always perfect, it usually led to better work and happier clients.

You mention an increase in business and imply that it was because of this CD. But if the business is managed by account people, wouldn't they be more reponsible for the increase in business?

On Mar.08.2006 at 03:29 PM
Scoxsmith’s comment is:

My husband is currently interviewing for a postion as a strategy consultant with an international industrial design group. The position is research- oriented and requires an ability to communicate with both clients and designers. His first interview with his prospective 'boss' who is on the account/sales side consisted only of questions about his ability to communicate with clients about their needs (both design and financial). As he would essentially be the bridge between client needs and designer solutions, he found it vexing that his ability to communicate effectively with a design team was never broached, especially as he feels one of his best strengths is his skill in translating client-speak into design-speak and vice versa.

It's one of the reasons I love him, (I'm an art director) because he always understands when I complain that account service will never do itself a favor by assuming that giving the client exactly what they describe is really what they want. Designers are much better at translating "I want a 'friendly' corporate identity for my financial services company." into something viable than they are often given credit for and it's not the suits job to make his or her own personal judgement about what consititues 'friendly'.

Yes, the money comes from the client and that makes him number 1, but it becomes harder and harder to satisfy a client if an account person never lets a design team come up with a solution based on it's best judgement. Sure, we'll do the McDonald's 'friendly' version of a financial services brand just to satisfy the account services guy, but we'd like the chance to show a client what a professional designer could do and have the confidence to know that it will get a fair chance.

On Mar.08.2006 at 03:56 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Creatives do not rule the roost like we would like to think.

Jimm, I think one problem here is that you still characterize it as "Us vs Them", "Our job vs Their job" while at the same time, preaching that both sides should play nice w/ each other, understand each other, etc.

Good companies are just that, good companies. Not a collection of groups within the company that play nice with each other. If you work at enough places, you'll realize that the equation can get much more complicated — beyond account and creative, beyond just you and the client.

You have to remove the labels in your head first before you can start spouting advice about integration.

If your CD had been more experienced, or a little smarter, he would've been able to show leadership without having to posture with rhetorics before the account team to impress his design underlings. You may think that it's about being more diplomatic — but it's not. It's about working smarter and harder to be a better business director and managing your pride and ego.

It's about self-discipline.

On Mar.08.2006 at 04:11 PM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

Hey dude. Thanks for this.And Marketing shut up. For once. Amen for that... Seriously, I know Tan is right in an ideal sense, but back when I worked in corporate in-house, I realized quickly that Marketing people, specifically the Marketing Barbies right outta their 4 years of binge drinking, do little more than yack and set up meetings and attempt to control the creative process.

So I went above them, and never let them speak for Creative. I am articulate enough, and think I have enough sense, that I would go straight to the partners on the project and present our Creative in terms that they could understand. No art school BS, and no Marketing BS. And they appreciated it. I even got several of them to start boycotting PowerPoint after emailing them, en masse, Tufte's article (OK so that got me in a little trouble with my CD, but still, it was effective.)

You're right, Tan, it isn't Us Vs. Them. But when we allow middlemen who aren't qualified to speak for us, then, well, we are gonna get incidents that befit that.

On Mar.08.2006 at 04:32 PM
Rob’s comment is:

While many of the comments here are applauding this CD's attitude, please allow me to point out that the same things you are cheering are seemingly what got him FIRED. Certainly that doesn't do anything for improving the reputation and respect of the design group he left behind.

Tan is totally right about it being so much more than Us vs. Them, and knowing how to operate properly in a business situation where you need to put the needs of the company and the client first, and your own ego/prima donna attitude to rest. We all argue about the need for design to get more respect in business, and this is clearly a case that illustrates why it is still such a challenge.

On Mar.08.2006 at 06:26 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

Tan's completely right - the 'us' v 'them' attitude is a rot that will eat through any creative company, leaving everyone bitter and useless.

The reason the division exists is because of a shocking lack of respect from either party. Too many creatives consider clients to be a bit of a nuisance - 'if only they'd leave us alone!' And too many account managers consider creatives to be a bit of a nuisance - 'if only they'd do what they're told'

But both positions are crazy. You can't have a design company without designers, and you can't have a design company without clients.

The Berlin Wall didn't come down because half the population went away; it came down because it wasn't necessary.

On Mar.08.2006 at 07:17 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>that Marketing people, specifically the Marketing Barbies right outta their 4 years of binge drinking, do little more than yack and set up meetings and attempt to control the creative process.

I agree, but you've pointed out a key difference between in-house creative and agency teams. The structures are different, and so are the challenges.

I also realize that my advice doesn't apply to every situation. Some companies cough..Microsoft..cough are structured for what's termed "purposeful confrontation" between internal work groups. Sad, but that's how they function most effectively.

There are network agencies where a good account team is absolutely pivotal to the survival and success of a creative team. That structure is dictated by the type of enterprise clients and the nature of the work.

On Mar.08.2006 at 07:48 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

Some of my best work has been a result of confrontation. As the adage goes: nothing great was ever easy.

On Mar.08.2006 at 07:59 PM
Chris Dixon’s comment is:

Until fairly recently, I worked as a Senior Designer for a studio who had just reached that tipping point where they become accounts-driven rather than creative-driven (I have seen it happen a few times). Designers had no access to clients in terms of clarifying briefs/objectives — this process was owned by the Accaount Managers. Designers were considered the means to an end.

My second to last project was a state-wide campaign for our Government Training Awards Program. I had produced a nice concept which met all the points of the brief, The client was happy, I was happy. The client had just one small query. I was using the fantastic typeface Knockout for my layout and there was a phone number which contained the numeral 1. Knockout has a concave barb on the numeral 1 and they wanted to know if it was meant to be there. Rather than simply tell the client that, “Yes, it is meant to be there” the AM demanded that I “edit the font file and fix the mistake”. When I tried to explain the obvious difficulties in that solution to a problem that might not even exist, I was accused of being precious. (no, I didn’t even get the chance to suggest substituting the 1 with the upper-case I). Needless to say, I rang the client without telling the AM and the problem was fixed... but then there was an argument about me contacting the client.

I think the problem, at least at that studio, was that the owners are instructing the AMs to make more money and telling the designers to do what the AMs tell them. Where once the two jobs were on an equal footing, the AMs are now considered senior to the Creative staff just to serve the bottom line. The “Us vs. Them” is created by the powers that be. A studio which only looks at the bottom line very quickly turns into a crap factory with a revolving door staffing policy.

I now work at a small “boutique” studio, specialising in packaging and branding. The owner is one of the three designers. No Account Managers — I love it.

On Mar.08.2006 at 08:11 PM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

Perhaps an underlying issue in all of this is the connection to the client. Though I have never worked in a system that does this, it seems like much of the problems happen when the "creative" is in direct contact with the client—and an account manger sees it as stepping over the line. I see this as a huge issue in the chain of command. Shouldnt Account Managers talk to the client about account issues and the designer talk about design issues? Why should an AM or marketing rep sell an idea they didnt concieve or have an innate knowledge of (this is, of course, assuming the AM has no design knowledge, which i relaize is not always the case)?

Its hard enough to decipher what the client wants from what he/she says he/she wants without having to go through a middleman that isnt sensitive to wording an expressions like most senior level designers are. Its not an us vs. them, but rather a "we have a job to do, they have a job to do, and they should only involve each other when requested."

On Mar.08.2006 at 09:05 PM
ps’s comment is:

best results probably come when the 3 parties -- client, designer and ae -- respect each other for what they are good at. the "battles" to find common ground are often needed to find a strong solution. just as you hate deadlines, they seem to help to get stuff done.

On Mar.08.2006 at 10:23 PM
Erik Larsson’s comment is:

There's a good book out called Creating the perfect design brief (I think it was reviewed here on Speakup as well.) It's about creating a brief but it also discusses the relationship designer - client (often times designer have to sell their idea inhouse as well).

I got quite a few good tips out of that book. In essence it's all about "becoming" a partner instead of being looked of as a decorative service. Unfortunately I believe that much of the blame will have to be on the designer for not speaking "businesslanguage" (business objectives, etc ).

On Mar.09.2006 at 05:14 AM
pd’s comment is:

As Tan said, it's the team and the attitude. The internal structures can vary, but what counts is the dedication to the work and the professionalism of the members. I don't believe the problems with The Suits and The Hands exist in every agency on all levels. Cannot be true. Sadly enough, I've also experienced the bitter side, and may only hope that there is a better place in this world, where designers and managers co-exist peacefully...

"Once Procter, always Procter" — or a similar saying — should be true not only in Germany, where I am based for now, but most probably around the world. The two co-founders had left their P&G careers, went the ladder up at another consultancy and finally started their own. Both were (and are) good sellers and negotiators, the only qualities, which apparently let them survive considering the creative work the agency produces. The problem was not always in those particular "sell-anything" guys, who could exercise CEO powers on virtually any decision taken in this house. The problem actually came from the CD corner... The CD, pursuing "a creative director" career, where the "director" part played the central role, had no creative experience whatsoever, except for working as "a boy" in some distant agency and later working as mid-range manager in this other consultancy. When the both bosses has switched the doors, he was taken as the head of still-to-come creative part of the house, while for now managing clients and stuff.

The coworking with the guy was never fun. And I am not just bitching here (enough time has passed to let all bad things go away; it's just a fact) — there were other people with more experience in the industry who questioned the ways this CD made use of to get where he was (and is). A guy, who freely admited, that he could't write a copy or design a thing would go around the room pointing out "the errors". He managed to sell himself as a great CD to the clients, and they seemed to believe. Two years went by but I am still under the impression of one of the meetings where I've seen him acting like a total AHole. The density of arrogance in the room was so high, the client could hardly see the opposite wall through it.

Finally, the team has managed to grow to 4 fully employed creatives, including a senior AD, a junior AD, a copywriter and an illustrator. Everybody was working hard and the year we've worked together has seen some great creative works ... which would never reach the client. There was either our own CD killing the job (he always felt like he must have competed with the far more experienced and awarded AD) or the co-owner, who was insisting on the subordinate nature of design to marketing /strategy/ cash. The result was that first senior AD, then me, then illustrator gradually left the agency. Today the consultancy still produces mediocre POS stuff, and dreams of getting a chance to do a "cool" TV spot and win a Cannes Lion. Pathetic enough not to be angry with them anymore, but it is still sad enough to see that a couple of egos can ruin so much.

(sorry for a post this long...)

On Mar.09.2006 at 06:35 AM
christina’s comment is:

Essentially, I think the rift I have felt with marketing has been, at it's root, a feeling of the lack of respect. Respect for my education, experience, and knowledge base. I am particularily sensitive to this because of the way I think graphic design is perceived as a whole.

In our field, we constantly fight against the perception of unprofessionalism, don't we? We sometimes feel we are seen as overgrown kids with computer skills. That our profession isn't as respected as we would like. We are lumped in with sixteen-year-olds who know flash, printers who have the programs, and really anyone that wants to call themselves a designer.

I'm not sure what the procedure is in the US, but I know that in Ontario, a governing body has been developed where you can take a lengthy test, be assessed on your formal education, and attend a portfolio interview to recieve accredidation as a graphic designer (see the handbook here). Problem is, many clients and marketers don't know what it means to be acreditted.

I think that some of the disrespect I see is actual, some imagined out of my own sensitivity. Your CD had the ability to stand up against what sounds like a particularily abraisive Account person (abraisive in how they communicated the problem with your concepts.) and he lost. It's unfortunet that as accounts people, some lack the people skills to handle designers, and as a designer, I sometimes lack the communication skills to handle an accounts person.

On Mar.09.2006 at 09:37 AM
Zoelle’s comment is:

Respect for my education, experience, and knowledge base. I am particularly sensitive to this because of the way I think graphic design is perceived as a whole.

I hear you, sister. I felt the same way. At first I fought it by trying to posture my way through projects. Ideas which I did not agree with were debated instead of discussed. I came to realize that if I was being disrespected it was because I was not behaving in a manner deserving of respect. Being aware of why a profession is disrespected is crucial to begin changing its perception. Maybe people here can lend some insight into the less obvious designer offences.

How respect is achieved is not a mystery, it’s a skill obtained through practicing the behaviors of those who are respected. Plenty of books will tell you what to do. “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Think and Grow Rich” to name a few. The concepts are almost disappointingly simple, but the practice of these disciplines is a life long pursuit.

Communication is a word which seems to be misconstrued as the ability to make people see things their way, instead of “The transmission of information so that the recipient understands what the sender intends.” Some people are just plain difficult to communicate with. Crucial Conversations is a book that I found extremely valuable when dealing with difficult people.

As Jim Rohn would say, “Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills.”

On Mar.09.2006 at 11:41 AM
Ben Hagon’s comment is:

The biggest problem in my experience is when management (or marketing) people start art directing. Design is not art and should respond to problems or needs, and so as creatives (whether we like it or not) we have to listen, address, and respond within these parameters.

However when accounts people begin trying to put their own stamp on the work (usually to serve their own egos; the need of which may have arisen after working all day with the horrendous creative egos) then bigger problems arise.

My experience has taught me to ungrit my teeth, breath, listen, and usually hold firm by rationally explaining how the creative fits the client's brief.

Clients mostly come to us to do the work, but sometimes that need gets diluted by various levels of filters on both sides who wish to exert control.

Human nature I guess.

On Mar.09.2006 at 01:07 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

The problem is further confounded when budgets are tight, as the ugly subject of guilt is brought into play.

Often, taking a stand on an issue means extra work, extra time spent on a project and extra costs. And who'll take resposibility for these? The 'us' v 'them' attitude means that either camp will stubbornly place the blame at the feet of the other - and try to make them feel guilty for it.

But this really does no-one any good. If someone feels that they are being trated unfairly, they'll react even more stubbornly. This is dangerous ground.

This is the rot I spoke of. If left to fester it can seriously harm client relationships and ruin an otherwise successful company.

On Mar.09.2006 at 07:03 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

process was owned by the Account Managers. Designers were considered the means to an end.

Designers and account managers are means to an end. Duh. It seems like many people forget why they are hired. If designers think that marketing or client interests are nuisances then there is a real problem. If account people think the model for a service industry is the drive-up window at McDonald’s—Caslon? You want fries with that?—then there is a real problem.

The biggest problem in my experience is when management (or marketing) people start art directing.

Rather than assuming that they are pompous geeks who think they could do your job if they had more time and if it weren’t a waste of their attention, assume for a moment that they are trying to solve a problem and they just aren’t very good at communicating what that problem is. Don’t accept their art direction as a set of orders. Assume they are trying to provide an answer because they haven’t sufficiently figured out the question. Try to guess what their suggestions are meant to accomplish and try asking (in the respectful manner you’d like someone to employ when talking to you) what the functional result they are seeking is.

For instance, if “make the logo bigger” can be translated to “strengthen the brand identity” then two things can happen. You can have a conversation about whether the brand identity is, indeed, strong enough and (assuming the answer is yes) you can offer better solutions than a big logo.

On Mar.10.2006 at 09:16 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I’m not sure if Jimm’s email to me—“Duh?”—was a denial of the self-evident nature I assumed or a reminder that I should be nice but I hereby officially retract the “Duh” in my previous post, if only to advance Speak Up comity.

On Mar.10.2006 at 10:00 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

The account people at the couple of mid-size agencies I did time in were seemingly burdened with the inability to say "thanks". That counts for a lot in my book. Both ways.

I see several advantages in starting your own small design studio with a conscious decision to have no account people.

1. Cutting overhead. There are layers of fat that can accrue when you have account managers, account assistants and assistants to the assistants. No client wants to pay for obfuscation.

2. You become the account person. You're at the table. Many clients appreciate dealing directly with the people doing the work.

3. There are consequences for rude behavior. In an agency environment, designers can lead a sheltered life and pissy attitudes seem to be part of the game.

Less problems and better skills for the team.

On Mar.10.2006 at 10:52 AM
Leslie’s comment is:

There is a tendency for some account managers to think of designers as the "hands" that create what they have in mind. Nevertheless, tack and diplomacy are always appreciated by everyone in business. It is so easy too be "right" as the creative director obviously was. What is more difficult is to convince the account manager that you are as interested in the success of the final product as he/she is and are part of the same team.

On Mar.10.2006 at 12:42 PM
Caleb’s comment is:

We need more people like this working in the creative industry. If we did, I think there would be a lot less crap out there but the crap that was present would be designed by the CEO himself in Microsoft Publisher.

I don't understand why people will tell you they don't know what they want and as soon as you show them something they say, "that's not what I was looking for." The fact is the usually do know what they want and they should wither let go of their own ideas and let the designers actually work or just do the dang piece or logo themselves.

On Mar.10.2006 at 12:59 PM
Johnny On The Spot’s comment is:

I am about to strangle the 22 year old junior account services manager who is currently trying to art direct the project on which I'm currently working into a flaccid, ineffective, perfectly symmetrical, off-brand, lazy piece of shite.

Perhaps if we hang her corpse prominently in the town square it will discourage others from trying the same thing.

I'm just saying...

On Mar.10.2006 at 03:10 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>I see several advantages in starting your own small design studio with a conscious decision to have no account people.

I find it fascinating that so many designers assume that they can be competent account managers when they can't even deal with internal account staff.

An agency account manager is nothing more than an internal client who even works with you for the same purpose. If you can't even deal with an internal team member — and show some leadership for what you do — then why do you think you would be any better directly with the client?

On Mar.10.2006 at 06:56 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Dear Johnny OTS,

I sympathize - which is probably why I am self-employed and not an art director anymore. Best to place AE heads on pikes outside your studio door as a subtle warning. Very effective.

Think of it as French Revolution II....

On Mar.11.2006 at 06:42 AM
Michael Browers’s comment is:

"It is a business. It is THE business. Creatives do not rule the roost like we would like to think. Players have to get along with coaches, even though they are the ones who score the points. "

It is really important in any workplace to understand that "office politics", or more realistically stated, diplomacy is of utmost importance to one's survival in the workplace and to people buying into your work product. Even the biggest tyrant in the workplace in diplomatic to those above him or her. Those that don't understand that find themselves let go.

I would even dare to say that the CD should have been fired. While the marketing person may have been wrong in the offered critique, the CD was wrong to abrasively dismiss the marketing person. There are better ways to work out creative differences and by not being diplomatic the CD was not serving his designers and the project well. He was not doing his job in getting people further up the corporate chain on board with his creative direction.

On Mar.11.2006 at 08:41 AM
Susan Kirkland’s comment is:

Here's my take on clients who make me sweat after 25+ years in the business, both as a freelancer and an in-house creative.

Both Giddyup BOLD and Suits 101 are pertinent to your discussion.

Graphic Design Forum Blogs

Let's hear it for standing up for your role as quarterback on the team. Don't be a doormat.


Susan Kirkland

author of Start and Run a Creative Services Business

read excerpts at my site/click on the book icon

On Mar.11.2006 at 06:00 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

It's really easy to hate AEs. Like, really easy. Fortunately I work with one of the best around, the rare breed who believes in doing strong creative and that the best judge of that is the person actually doing it. He's unreal. Just by putting him on a project, the quality of the work drastically improves and the client selects better stuff. He knows how to sell, and knows how to let people do their best work without fear.

I always figured he was common in the larger, more established agencies, but after the two of us had a couple drinks with the CEO of his former employer, I learned that wasn't the case. People from the agency lamented his departure and envied those of us who were now working with him.

There are a lot of clearly angry comments here about young AEs, many of them probably on their fist jobs, and I understand it. To an extent. But folks, until you've dealt with what they deal with on a daily basis, there's nothing to say. There are good clients and bad ones, but most are somewhere in the middle, and many of them just DUMP on the daily contact. For every shitty thing you have to contend with, there's a damn good chance your AE filtered out ten of the more retarded requests (and if s/he didn't, then yeah, they suck).

I've interacted with the type who's just a conduit for the client's vocal cords, and it was enough to make me want to put a whole through the wall. Now, was playing the role of angry young white man to her going to suddenly change all of that? No! I sat down with her, took her and myself out of the equation, and focused on finding a way to be more effective. Huge difference within a month. Well worth shoving the anger out the window and getting an idea of where SHE was coming from.

The ONLY reason any client pays for design and advertising is because it'll somehow translate into more money for them. That's it. AEs and creatives are in this together, and both sides are responsible for eliminating the traditional wall that exists between them. Threatening, angry behavior solves nothing--it just echoes what a lot of AEs already do themselves.

On Mar.11.2006 at 07:41 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

I keep reading the word "type" in this string, and isn't that what it all boils down to? Matching up types? Personality, patience, and productivity all fit into the mix as well as the nature of the work each staff member's responsible for.

This "sleeping with the enemy" and "us versus them" mentaility is weak-minded at best. I won't get too carried away here, since others have touched on what any staff must maintain in their office: good communication, tight rapor, respect, a sense of humor, and dedication. At the end of the day, the best solution should win over the client, not the best person—whether they're a designer or an intern, MBA or MFA.

On Mar.11.2006 at 08:03 PM
Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:

creatives are no less than account egg-see-cutives.

and studio is no less than Oval.

account executives bring us shit.

and we creatives(why it is creative, can we find some other word) make a shine on that shit.

it is a team work.

no blame!. no fame!!.

just a claim to fame in the Hall of Fame!!!

On Mar.12.2006 at 12:03 AM
ben weeks’s comment is:

If you're an outside consulting agency, there tends to be a greater sense of working together. If a relationship doesn't work out, you aren't 100% dependent on any one person for all your business and you're less affected by these sort of political things.

Don't worry about you cd, i'm sure he's in a better place now.

On Mar.12.2006 at 12:32 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Oh, I'm only joking about putting AE heads on pikes.

As I get deeper into this business, it's still the age old conflict between money counters and visionaries. Neither is better than the other, but there are times that of conflict when either party can't seem to realize they need each other. This is still Business, the last time I checked, and not gallery painting.

On Mar.12.2006 at 03:29 PM
Johnny On The Spot’s comment is:

Gallery painting is also a business. If the artist doesn't produce work that the gallery can sell, then he'll soon be on the street.

The point is that it's annoying when people who don't know what they're doing goober up the works by sticking their noses where they don't belong. Just as account people get annoyed when designers go around them and interact with the clients directly, designers get annoyed when the account people try to art direct them.

On Mar.12.2006 at 08:29 PM
Ravenone’s comment is:

I'm going to agree with Johnny on the spot here. Totally. Art is buisiness. Not the same as being a Designer, but not totally dissimilar.

What I'm reading here is a lot of US vs THEM, and Victim mentality. Granted, I'm not a designer so this isn't my place but I'm speaking up anyway. There's a lot of focusing on differences. Are the creatives and non-creatives arguing with eachother simply because they speak a different language? Because they feel threatened by one another? Or perhaps it was simply a bad day...

The fact is, snarling and griping really don't solve anything. It may get rid of some stress, but doesn't solve the problem. And for the most part that's what I'm seeing here. Snarling, Griping. He Said She Said. You chould change the job titles endlessly...

What happened to trying to understand someone else's position, empathy?

You guys've pointed out the problem. It exists.

How about being 'creative' and figuring out, or trying to make some steps towards a solution?

On Mar.13.2006 at 12:08 AM
Gaynelle’s comment is:

"They don't know what they want. That is our job. It is what we do. We figure that out."

The CD said that? Really? Wow. Not sure I'd want to work around that attitude either.

Clients might not always know good design when they see it, but in my experience, clients know what they want. They might not be able to articulate it, they might want the wrong thing (from an outsider's perspective), they might want something you can't give them. But it seems pretty arrogant to suggest the client (and by extension, AE's) aren't capable of understanding what's really needed.

While there are always going to be personalities that clash, I’ve found that having everyone signed-off on the creative brief (assuming it’s a well-written, and not just a bunch of buzz words and jargon) before design exploration begins goes a long ways towards mitigating all kinds of downstream challenges. And if the design work satisfies the brief, then egos and personal tastes have less room to maneuver. At least that's my experience, having been both on the agency side and the client side, and having been both a designer and an AE.

On Mar.13.2006 at 03:10 AM
Johnny On The Spot’s comment is:


I will concede that a competent account manager won't fuck everything up. This is all about people not sucking at their jobs and I would make the case that incompetent dedicated account managment is far worse than none, assuming the creative staff has basic social skills (such as learned in any of the finer pre-schools around the world).

On Mar.13.2006 at 12:35 PM
Michael Browers’s comment is:

"I would make the case that incompetent dedicated account managment is far worse than none"

This "argument" can be applied to any discipline, not just to account managers... It could be argued that an incompetent dedicated creative director is far worse that none.

On Mar.13.2006 at 08:29 PM
Von Glitschka’s comment is:

This was a great article. I wish I could have read this before I got out of art school. They need to teach this too.

Pesky Illustrator said: "As I get deeper into this business, it's still the age old conflict between money counters and visionaries. Neither is better than the other, but there are times that of conflict when either party can't seem to realize they need each other. This is still Business, the last time I checked, and not gallery painting."

Well said.

On Mar.14.2006 at 02:22 PM
Ravenone’s comment is:

I think part of this comes down to: Does one give the client what the client WANTS or what we believe the client NEEDS, even if they don't think they want it.

How does one balance the need vs. want without coming across as being arrogent, smug, superior, etc?

How does one know that their idea of what the client needs is right, and isn't simply an expression of what the designer wants?

On Mar.14.2006 at 02:57 PM
Johnny On The Spot’s comment is:

"I would make the case that incompetent dedicated account managment is far worse than none"

This "argument" can be applied to any discipline, not just to account managers... It could be argued that an incompetent dedicated creative director is far worse that none.

No. This is an apples to Pinatas comparison.

On Mar.14.2006 at 04:24 PM
Michael Browers’s comment is:

"No. This is an apples to Pinatas comparison."

My point is be careful in defining those we work with that aren't designers as either a necessary evil or unnecessary altogether. Such an attitude can backfire and open us (designers) up to being Pinatas.

On Mar.14.2006 at 04:50 PM
frank juval’s comment is:

What if you can set aside your personal preferences as a creative and do what's best for the company but the suits are art directing and making decisions that go against the design process?

I have no problem putting the company's needs first. That's part of my job. But, I constantly get marketing, PR and everyone else art directing. These are not suggestions or ideas. It's flat out "change the color", "change the font", "move this over", etc. What is their reason for this? The best answer I get? It's because they like it that way or because their title is marketing VP. Those aren't real reasons to change any design.

What are you trying to communicate? In what way do you want to communicate? What is the message? Is it a hard sell or a soft sell? At least where I work, they're not asking themselves these questions (or any questions for that matter). That's supposed to be my job but what I say means nothing. So how do I go about letting them know that I care about this company, I put their needs first and I want to communicate effectively for them? That they have to let me do my job? I'm more than happy to take suggestions or ideas but if I don't use their ideas, don't go off the deep end.

It's all about "it's my idea" or "I did that". That's all that matters to them. At least in my case.

It's not easy dealing with people who have been in the company for umpteen years and feel their say is final whether they're qualified or not. It's frustrating.

On Mar.14.2006 at 05:10 PM
Chris Dixon’s comment is:

These are not suggestions or ideas. It's flat out "change the color", "change the font", "move this over", etc. What is their reason for this?

That question is at the heart of this whole entry.

Yes, we all know it happens. Yes, in some cases there needs to be change on both sides. But I never suggest to an account manager that they quote more for this or less for that. I never advise them to answer each clients’ call with “Good morning, giant poo-poo head speaking”. These would be about as constructive as most of the “art direction” I have received from AMs, and if they want to rant about designers on their blog, they are more than welcome. I am just curious about where that urge to stamp their perceived authority on the parts of the work that isn’t theirs come from.

On Mar.14.2006 at 05:53 PM
Friendly Mac’s comment is:

I was dealing with the marketing & sales director who was handling (or should I say molly-coddling) the client account personally.

My presentation included a sheet where I explained the entire concept of the campaign. This was promptly printed and placed directly in the bin without so much as a glance - while I was in the room. My dept manager who was sitting next to me did not miss a beat and the episode was never mentioned.

Never, in over 10 years of being a designer have I ever come across such behaviour which not only invalidated my work but also displayed a huge lack of respect for my profession in general.

How can you make an executive director aware that his/her behavior is inappropriate without endangering your job?

On Mar.16.2006 at 11:37 PM
Chris Dixon’s comment is:

How can you make an executive director aware that his/her behavior is inappropriate without endangering your job?

By valuing your job above your position and finding another one. Having done so recently has been the best thing I have ever done (career-wise, anyway).

On Mar.17.2006 at 12:20 AM
Dennis Staples’s comment is:

I have worked in an agency,corporate,newspaper and design studio as an employee,as well as a freelancer.I believe the bottom line is

the"suits" in their heart of hearts still hold a stereotypical view of "creatives" as flakes,

weirdos and business dilletantes.They mask their

bias by listening to our rationales for design and then the worst of them sabotage it once it's out the door.I think the cd should have read Carnegie, it may have saved his position.Yet I believe the department grew due to the quality

of the creative produced under his management.

The better the creative management the easier the "suits" can sell.

On Apr.02.2006 at 04:16 PM