Category Archives: Client/Agency Relationship
Truth. You have to fish a lot and bid a lot and write all kinds of proposals and it often goes nowhere. Heck, I bet I have lost at least half the jobs I have bid on.
I have been taking a break from Fletcher Prince to explore teaching (which I love, maybe there is a way to do both). But I haven’t dropped Fletcher Prince altogether. I am just reassessing. Today, I was listening to some news about the Muslim Brotherhood and I thought, oh, I remember them. They were almost a client.
The toughest part about proposals is that you pour your heart and soul into them, and when you don’t get them, 90% of the time you don’t find out why. We ask for feedback but rarely get that. I think that is not unusual for this industry. So you never really know why you didn’t make the cut. It’s demoralizing. Failures are part of success, but knowing why you failed is essential for growth. That part is often missing.
These are sad stories, but in some cases, preventable tragedies. And in other cases, just part of the way business is done. Learn from them, grasshopper.
1. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Oh, this one hurt. David and I really wanted this one. We both like to work with clients who do good things, and NAMI is right up there with the best. We thought we were so close! They needed a website and they didn’t have a big budget. Usually, that is a good fit for us. We met with them and learned a lot about their mission, and submitted the best proposal we could create. But…it was not to be. It happens. It was, pardon the expression, depressing.
Lesson learned: Well, it’s hard to take a lesson from this. We did everything right. We just didn’t make the grade. I guess the lesson is, sometimes, you can do your best, but your best isn’t good enough. You just have to deal.
2. The Muslim Brotherhood. Before the economic downturn, Fenton Communications was using David for a lot of their graphic design, and occasionally batting over a client that wasn’t right for them. That’s how we landed the Florida Education Association, and how they put us in touch with potential clients like the Muslim Brotherhood. But we did not get the Muslim Brotherhood. This was before the Arab Spring, and they needed a website. They needed some very basic PR work. The budget was not large. It probably is, now. I wondered what they were all about. Were they like a Muslim Knights of Columbus? Well, sort of, but not really 🙂 They did not yet have a Wikipedia page. Of course, now they are all over the news. But at one, time, they read our proposal for a website. We thought it was in the bag, but we didn’t get it. Probably a good thing, considering how uninformed I was. Who knows why? We just weren’t the right fit. Oh, well. We did go on to do pro bono work for two American pro-democracy in Bahrain groups, though.
Lesson learned: Writers say write about what you know. This can also apply to projects. If you really know little about the issues and countries involved, it’s not appropriate to try and bid on a project.
3. Lake Placid CVB (visitor’s bureau). They needed branding work and a website. We gave it the old college try and we didn’t get it. This was heartbreaking for two reasons. I used to have a family home in Lake Placid and David has a family home near Lake Placid, so we have both spent a lot of time in this beautiful place. Having a client there would mean frequent trips, trips we could have written off, even better. The other heartbreaking reason was the proposal for the RFP was so freaking difficult to complete. It felt like finals trying to get that sucker together. And we never made it to first base. Sigh.
Lesson learned: Stick close to home. Proposals are about connections, too. If you are a small firm, like Fletcher Prince, if you can’t meet face to face easily, you may be hoping for too much. It certainly would make it tough if you actually had won the bid.
4. St. Charles, MD. A new community needed a social media program, soup to nuts. It was one of those situations where they seemed to know where they wanted to be but they weren’t sure how to get there. It’s hard to do proposals like this, because you feel a bit like you are shooting in the dark — there’s no hint of a budget, no real deadlines, no specific requirements. They basically just want you to come up with a plan that will work. You can only hope your plan will fly with them.
I started to get suspicious (or paranoid, depending on how you look at it) after this RFP. I mean, it could have been that our proposal stank, but when we heard nothing, I started thinking — maybe some clients — especially the ones who have not really talked to us in person — are using us for some free consultation.
I began to get more cagey and conservative with my time and intellectual capital. The truth is, proposals are rich with billable marketing advice and insights, and usually include quite a bit of research and competitive analysis. That’s a lot of work for no return at all. After this, I began charging a fee for detailed proposals. Estimates were still free, but major, multi-page proposals were not. That way, I would receive some compensation for my advice, and the amount would be credited to the invoice, if were hired.
Lesson learned: Even in subcontracting situations, never, ever write a major proposal without meeting with the client first, in person. Make sure you are a real contender, before you put too much work into a proposal.
5. Hickok Cole. What a train wreck this client relationship turned into. I lost track of how many meetings we had this reputable architecture firm. We were hired, eventually, to create a video. It was a surprise to me because I actually recommended that they hire one of my more experienced colleagues for their project. But they wanted me, and I was flattered as all get out. At first.
I made the mistake of not collecting a deposit. I didn’t make that mistake again. I know now that when you take a client’s money, they have an incentive to work with you to stay on track. Nice people but…meetings started getting cancelled, because they didn’t feel ready. I tried to explain that it was the purpose of the meeting to discuss those questions, and that I would help them get ready. The bride just wouldn’t come to the altar.
The client called me with less than an hour’s notice to tell me that they would have to cancel, once again, because they didn’t feel ready to talk about the video. This meeting had already been rescheduled twice. I was already in DC. The drive had not been fun. It was a hot day. I had declined a meeting with another client to take this meeting. I had paid for parking 🙂 So, I was steamed. I tallied how many hours I had put into educating this client about video. That amount definitely reached the amount it would cost to produce a video. It exceeded it. I was losing money, technically. Months had dragged on. And I had no video to show for it. So, after explaining my position, I broke up with the client, and sent them the invoice for my time. To their credit, they paid it, but I never got to do their video, and it felt like a divorce. It just felt bad.
Lesson learned: How you write your proposal and agreement can make all the difference in the success of the project. Decide where you can be flexible and where you will stand firm. Get paid upfront (at least 50% deposit) and bill for your time for meetings that go outside the scope of the project.
6. The Just Ask Prevention Project. Along with a couple of other companies, we were asked to bid on this Fairfax County teen sex trafficking project, after being referred by a client to whom we had provided social media training services. The specifics for the website were very slim, but the budget was bare bones. We talked about social media and video, as well, but were advised to just stick to an estimate for basic website production.
We created a proposal at a discounted rate, since nonprofits were involved and the issue was right in our community, and we wanted the job.
We didn’t get the project, but a much larger, out-of-state company did — one that created what appeared to my experienced eye as high quality, multi-thousand dollar commercial websites, that frankly, we couldn’t touch. We never did figure out how they were able to produce the work at seriously below-market rates. They did an outstanding job, but the match between the stated budget and the outcome is something I still have not been able to fathom. It could have been that this firm was willing to take on a below-market project, as some firms will, with the idea that the website will be submitted for awards work, or for good will. Or maybe their websites really don’t cost very much to produce, actually. Who knows? Still, I am happy for the organization because if they really achieved all that they did, for the quoted budget, they landed quite a bargain!
Lesson learned: Sometimes, the deck is stacked against you. Small fish can’t compete with big fish. You can’t win ’em all!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Today, I am especially grateful to our Fletcher Prince clients, Facebook friends, blog subscribers, and supporters. 2013 was a fun year filled with work, networking, and giving back. I’m thankful to know so many terrific professionals in public relations and marketing.
I hope your Thanksgiving is joyous and that you have just as much to be grateful for this year, and in the years to come.
Sad to say, many federal workers in the Washington, DC area have been furloughed and businesses that contract with the federal government are also feeling the pinch of the government shut-down.
Nearly everyone I know has been touched by this shut-down in some way.
Hopefully, everyone will be back on the job soon. But until then, I wanted to share some ideas for making the most of this time away from work.
Professional Development Ideas
1. Update your LinkedIn Profile. The furlough might have you thinking about other employment options. LinkedIn is one of the best ways to showcase your expertise and experience, and the free platform has a lot of new features you can take advantage of. This might be a good time to try them out. For example, you can upload your resume, letters of recommendation, writing samples and images, and links to videos you may have created. Update your photo, make new connections, and ask for recommendations, even for past jobs or volunteer work you do.
2. Learn a new skill. If you have some extra time, check out the online classes offered by Lynda.com. For an affordable fee, you can learn an in-demand new skill, like blogging, Photoshop, website design, or video editing, to name a few.
The Community Business Partnership in Springfield is offering a Google+ 101 class for $25 this Friday (October 4) and a Marketing Plan class on Tuesday, October 15. Details here.
At Fletcher Prince, we offer affordable, one-on-one personalized training in your home or office in blogging, Facebook Page administration, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other services. And you can also learn from our blog, YouTube Channel, and Slideshare account.
3. Create a personal website. Have you purchased the URL for your name yet? You might want to consider making that small investment, and creating an affordable website showcasing your achievements, using WordPress.com or Yahoo Small Business.
4. Connect with professionals in other industries or fields. Now that you have a little extra time, this might be a good opportunity to schedule (affordable) lunch dates or coffee dates. One idea for where you can get a really affordable lunch and actually hear each other talk 🙂 is Olive Garden in Tysons Corner or Fair Oaks (soup/salad, breadsticks, and a calzone for under $10, Monday-Friday).
Fun Ideas to Boost Your Spirits
Ordinarily, I might suggest visiting a museum, but most of the free museums in town are closed because of the government shut-down. However, you can also try…
1. Virginia State Parks. Between $3 and $8 for a parking pass. I recommend the nearby Sky Meadows State Park, which is an easy day-trip and has a number of great hikes. Ask the ranger for a free loan of a back pack with field guides, binoculars, and activities.
2. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond has free admission and is always worth a visit.
3. The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester is not free ($10) but it’s worth a visit if you have not seen it (open Tuesday-Friday).
4. Movies at the University Mall Theater in Fairfax are only $2 on Tuesdays and $4 the rest of the week.
5. Cheer on your local high school football team. A Friday night ticket is about $5 and parking is free 🙂
More Money-Saving Ideas
Since none of us know when this will end (soon, we hope, right?) it makes sense to economize where you can. There are oodles of ways to save money but for right now, consider
- Enjoying all that is free and wonderful about fall — raking leaves, long walks on the bike trail, doing reps with hand weights, playing basketball or tennis at free parks — none of this requires a gym membership!
- Don’t buy anything with credit cards, if you can help it.
- Before you go shopping for clothes or a gadget, think about whether you can do without for a while longer, or if you can borrow it, or buy it second-hand. Then take a long walk.
- Walgreens and some other businesses and organizations are providing free flu shots to those who qualify. Many other businesses are offering discounts and offers to furloughed employees (see links below).
- A pumpkin flavored coffee at 7-11 is about 1/3 the cost of one at Starbucks (and I think it tastes better).
- Save hundreds of dollars a year by doing salon beauty treatments at home.
- Go out for breakfast instead of dinner. You can get pancakes, eggs and bacon for $4 at Denny’s, and it’s healthier to get more calories earlier in the day, any way.
- Get your books and videos at the library instead of purchasing them.
- Re-think your cell phone plan. I bought a cell phone THIS year for $10 at Radio Shack and my plan costs $45/month and it does all I want or need it to do. That’s a fraction of what I used to pay three years ago!
- Gas is a big expense for many of us in the DC area. Make the most of your gas mileage by planning and consolidating your trips, keeping the car tires at the right pressure, and decluttering your trunk
- Furloughed Federal Workers Can Get Free Food, Drinks (washington.cbslocal.com)
- Free Stuff for Furloughed Workers During Shutdown (abcnews.go.com)
- Government shutdown 2013: Local businesses ease furlough pain with free stuff (wjla.com)
- Government shutdown creates stress for families of furloughed workers (ktvb.com)
Best wishes to all our blog readers for a fun and spooky Halloween!
At Fletcher Prince, occasionally we work with people who have not worked with graphic designers before. It takes a little educating to help them understand that they are a partner in the creative process, especially when it comes to logo design, which is one of the most challenging of all graphic design assignments.
Here’s an imaginary story I came up with to illustrate how a graphic design project can be a partnership.
So, imagine, that Joe hears that the “Fletcher Prince Cafe” has amazing burgers. 🙂 He decides to to have lunch there. ”Mary,” the server comes over. (I really did wait tables in college, by the way.)
Joe says, “My friends say you’ve got great burgers. Please bring me a burger.”
Mary replies, “Sure! How would you like that prepared?”
Joe considers, and admits, “Well, I really don’t know. I haven’t thought about it. I just know I need a burger.”
“Okay,” Mary says. “How about this? I will bring you three choices and then you can select one. We’ll charge you for the burger you like best.” That sounds good to Joe.
So Mary returns shortly with a plain burger, a cheese burger, and a veggie burger.
“Hmm,” reflects Joe. “These all look good, but they are not quite what I had in mind. Can I see the cheeseburger with a whole wheat bun?”
“Certainly,” Mary replies. She returns with the revised burger. Joe considers all the burgers, including the revised one.
“It is almost there, I think,” he tells her. “Is it possible to add pickles?” “Of course,” answers Mary. She returns with pickles on the cheeseburger.
Joe considers. “Well, that looks really good. That IS what I THOUGHT I wanted, at first. But now I am having second thoughts. Maybe what I want is not a cheeseburger, after all. Maybe what I am in the mood for is a piece of your chocolate cake.”
“That’s fine,” says Mary. “I will bring you chocolate cake. But I must ask you to pay for the burger you ordered. We put a lot of work into trying to deliver what you asked for.”
Do you think Mary was justified in asking for payment for the burger? I hope you said yes!
Our logo fee generally includes three designs, and an explanation of why the designer created those designs in that way. The client gets to pick the one he or she likes best, and then they have up to two revisions for that design that are also included in the fee. Any additional revisions are billed.
You may wonder, well, what if the client doesn’t like any of the three designs? That doesn’t happen very often, but if it did, the client would still be responsible for payment. They contracted for three options and two revisions at a fixed fee. The graphic design work was still done.
It’s up to the client to look at a designer’s portfolio, check references, and have discussions with the designer before the project is undertaken. Those steps help ensure that the result will be satisfactory.
The client has to trust in the process somewhat, but more importantly, the client should make sure the designer has all the information he or she needs to deliver the logo as desired. Just like Joe could have been more specific about what he wanted on his burger, or considered his needs and preferences more carefully before ordering.
Fortunately, we don’t have these misunderstandings with our paying clients — probably because we make these terms crystal clear before we begin work, and we put the terms in writing. In the worst case scenario, we have a 50% kill fee (the deposit we collect up front for all our contracted fixed fee work), because we recognize that we have done our part to make the project work out. But we have not yet had to enforce it, thank goodness.
The next time you are thinking about hiring a graphic designer, think about my Joe and Mary story. Keep in mind that your valuable input and your ongoing communication with the designer is a vital (and fun!) part of the creative process and helps produce a successful graphic design outcome.
As I write this, two new brochures we designed for PRofessional Solutions, LLC are being printed.
The brochures make the case for working with the staffing firm, and feature our photographs of Kate Perrin and Melanie Jordan from our session with them earlier this year, as well as a QR code and links to the company’s social media networks.
PRofessional Solutions, LLC, the only temporary staffing agency in the Washington, DC area that specializes in providing public relations temporary staff, sponsors many communications events throughout the year. Look for their classy brochures on display at the sponsor tables where those appear.
Working with this client is always a pleasure, and David and I are pleased to add their brochures to the Fletcher Prince portfolio.
The good news this month is that hiring is on the upswing and the economy is showing signs of recovery, especially in the Washington, DC area.
If you are looking for new staff, Fletcher Prince client PRofessional Solutions, LLC has ten tips for making a smart hiring decision.
Check out the video we recorded with them, here, featuring CEO Kate Perrin and Managing Director Melanie Jordan.
David Hyson and I have been working, pro bono, for the past several weeks for the Bahrain Coordinating Committee and Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). Our work has been challenging — in the best sense of the word! — and very gratifying and we look forward to providing public relations, branding, and social media support, as it is needed.
So far, we have created logos, a website/blog, a YouTube Channel, and a public relations plan. We’ve worked on the Twitter profile and Facebook Page. We’ve been building media contact lists, sending press releases and developing relationships with the news media and various NGOs. Today, I helped out with their exhibit at the ADC Convention (photo).
As a communications professional, I’ve noticed that the pro bono work I take on often allows me to learn new things and skills. That is true, I suppose, with any client, but especially in this case, where I’ve had to learn about the intricacies of FARA reporting, congressional relationships, and so much more.
We enjoy working with these organizations and are inspired by the strength and courage of its members and leaders, as well as by the enduring bravery of the Bahraini people. Many, many times, the reports are hard to read, or watch, as in the case of a four-year-old boy who lost his eye after being shot with birdshot pellets by police. But these sad and sometimes horrific stories only make us more determined in our work.
The struggle for human rights and democracy in Bahrain is a cause that should be important to all the world, but especially Americans. A human rights issue affects all of us. Bahrain is an important ally to the U.S., but the government has been injust to its people, especially in the brutal crackdowns of the past two years. However, Bahrain’s problems are not so great they are beyond solutions, and many organizations and individuals are working toward those solutions, including our pro bono clients, the U.N., various human rights organizations, and to a degree, the United States.
Every person does what he or she can. David and I feel gratified to feel like we are making a contribution. Thanks for taking a little time this weekend to learn about Bahrain, and if you would like to become involved, let us know!