Are Your Clients Ignorant and Arrogant?

March 5th, 2008 by Bob Bly

My late friend, the accomplished Michigan ad man James Alexander, once told me: “I can work with a client who is ignorant. I can work with a client who is arrogant. But I cannot work with one who is both.”

A client who is ignorant but not arrogant doesn’t know anything about advertising, cheerfully admits it, and defers to your superior knowledge and expertise.

A client who is arrogant but not ignorant is one who knows at least as much about advertising as you do, and more than you do about their product and market. The best relationship with this client is collaborative in nature.

A client who is both arrogant and ignorant is the one who cheerfully admits she knows nothing about advertising, and then proceeds to tell the copywriter or ad agency how to do their job. If there is a disagreement, she seldom listens to advice, and trusts her own admittedly minimal instincts and experience instead.

The client who is arrogent and ignorant should be avoided. You may tell her there should be only one cook in the kitchen (you), or that if she hired you as the chauffer she should let you drive, but it is usually to no avail. It is nearly impossible to do good work for the simultaenously ignorant and arrogent client.

Which kinds of clients do you serve? Ignorant? Arrogant? Neither? Both? And what is your reaction when they make changes that in your opinion will make the marketing less effective?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 5th, 2008 at 9:45 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

113 responses about “Are Your Clients Ignorant and Arrogant?”

  1. Sante said:

    I find comfort in reading this kind of post. 14 years in the online business are catching up with me and I simply can’t put up with arrogance any longer, no matter what the budget is (or would be). On the other hand ignorance is interesting as it has many faces and presents itself always in different forms and shapes and can represent a new challenge – that’s what keeps independent guys ticking :)

  2. Craig Hysell said:

    I’ve often found that the biggest dunces in the world are the men and women who insist they know it all.

    Most everyone else I can work with. Happily.

    And the projects are usually much more successful.

  3. Heather Lloyd-Martin said:

    Ah yes – the client who makes the marketing less effective. This is a big thing in SEO because everything is done for a very specific reason. If the client rewrites the copy – or if the code is tweaked the wrong way – it can mess up the entire initiative.

    I have learned that client communication/ education throughout the entire process is important. Not only will I tell clients, “Please don’t touch anything without talking to me first,” but I’ll also explain why one bad tweak can have far-reaching ramifications. That helps in about 95% of cases.

    If the client starts to make changes, I go right into CYA mode and inform them (always in writing,) of the possible consequences. This will often give the client pause. And if it doesn’t give them pause, well, there’s not much else I can do. I still do the work and still provide my opinion, but I let go of the outcome. Frustrating, yes. But at least I keep my sanity And sometimes, the client does come around. Eventually. :)

  4. Robert Rosenthal said:

    Know-it-alls rarely know it all.

    At Mothers of Invention, ignorant and arrogant clients are known as ex-clients.

  5. Gloria Hildebrandt said:

    I always wonder why people who aren’t prepared to follow the advice and recommendations of professionals, bother hiring them in the first place.

  6. Bob Bly said:

    Gloria: I think many INTEND to follow the advice. But when the get the advice and they are not confident in it, they follow their own instincts, because deep down, they trust themselves more than they do their advisors.

  7. Amod said:

    In my experience, it’s always the clients with the smallest accounts who have the most to say. The bigger accounts are happy to leave me to do what I have to do.

    Usually, I can get away with out too much trouble. I sit in the briefing sessions scowling at the client and let the AE handle the niceties. For some reason (maybe it’s the outright hostility) this approach keeps the client from touching the final copy.

    That said, there are always those few who think that because they can sell insurance, they can write copy that sells insurance.

    On another related point,I pray for the day when it becomes illegal for clients to ask their spouses, mothers or various other family members to crit copy or suggest creative angles.

  8. Ross said:

    Isn’t the reason clients give copywriters such hassles because in the back of their minds they feel that they could do just as good a job as you?

    Because after all, everyone writes. This is in contrast to, say, Graphic Design… the average person doesn’t do design everday. But in some form or another, we all write everyday.

    Is this not the root of the problem to arrogant clients?

  9. Bob Bly said:

    Ross: you are 100% correct. That is the root of the problem. They believe anyone and everyone can write. I explain that yes, while everyone can write, not everyone can write copy that doubles or triples response rates to sales letters and landing pages. If I had a formula for doing that 100% of the time, I’d be the richest man on Earth; Bill Gates would be my butler.

  10. Jay, writer Memberspeed.com said:

    You can work with ignorant. It’s an opportunity for them to learn. You can work with arrogant. At least they have the “right” to be boastful. But to deal with a client who is both is impossible. It sounds like a terrible waste of time. Unless you need a client, it’s best to avoid this type.

  11. Aryeh Narrow said:

    Bob:

    The trick is to learn to spot troublemakers in advance. (Easier said than done…)

    It helps sometimes to discuss the review and change process in advance. Rookie clients don’t realize that sometimes they make their own projects more complicated than they have to be.

    (I like the way you explained these issues in your Copywriter’s Handbook.)

    That’s for the “ignorant” client. The “arrogant” client is hopeless!

    Love your blog,

    Aryeh

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