By Lori Widmer
How often have you worked very well with a client only to have it go sour at the end? How often have those soured relationships had a third party involved? Show of hands – how many of you have worked with clients who, at some point in the process, have introduced another person’s comments or oversight into the final product?
I call this the client posse – friends, relatives, coworkers, or colleagues of clients whose opinions suddenly find their way into projects. Many times the posse’s comments come at the tail end of the project, right about the time you think you’re delivering the final product. And in nearly all cases, a posse’s input can redirect the project, skew the message, or cause any number of problems between you and your client.
My current third-party review/posse rule: I have a no-posse stance I strictly enforce. I’m happy to work with clients and any third party they designate at the beginning of our working relationship. I will not, however, entertain input from someone (or multiple someones) once the project terms have been discussed and the project is underway. My reasons are many and, in my opinion, are good reasons.
Let’s suppose you are being paid by your Uncle Ned to paint his house. After multiple trips to Home Depot with you in tow, Uncle Ned has finally decided on the color. You pick up supplies and you arrange with Ned to get the job done. After taping and preparing, you start painting.
As you finish the third side of the house and are starting the fourth side, you notice a neighbor of Ned’s standing on the sidewalk. Soon the neighbor is trying to get your attention. You realize he’s not saying hello – he’s giving you advice. You’re holding the roller wrong! You’re using the wrong kind of roller! And that ladder – what are you thinking?! For the most part you ignore him because he’s down there and you’re up here doing what Ned wants you to do. But soon Ned comes out to find out what the commotion is. The neighbor pulls Ned aside and soon the two of them are deep in discussion, staring right at you. And pointing. Ned signals for you to come down.
With the neighbor interjecting with every other sentence, Ned tells you that the job you’re doing, according to Bernie here, is sub-par. Bernie thinks your roller size is much too small. Let’s not mention that you have no clue how to hold it! And you’re using a generic ladder when everyone knows Craftsman is the ONLY ladder for painting jobs! Mind you, the color is okay, though Bernie thinks it’s going to look too harsh once the trim is finished. Not to mention he’s never been a fan of Home Depot paint.
Uncle Ned looks worried. Did we choose the wrong color? Are you sure you can get this job done right? Now you’re no longer working for Ned – you’re working to please Bernie, who has never really liked Ned’s taste in paint, and who has never really painted anything other than a piece of trim for his bathroom. So Ned sends you back to Home Depot for the supplies Bernie has indicated, and he takes Bernie off to shop for paint with him, bringing back another color completely different than the first.
Up the ladder you go again (the Craftsman ladder this time – Ned told you to stop at Sears, too). Halfway around, Ned’s other neighbor John comes over. Hey, are you sure that’s not the ladder that’s been recalled for safety issues? And what was Ned thinking with that color? By the way, your roller is a bit thick. Oh, and if it were John, he’d be using brushes on that surface. Again, Ned comes out. Again, he listens to his neighbor. Again, you’re at Home Depot buying supplies and at Sears returning a ladder. John just finished painting his dog’s house, so he has a bit more experience than Bernie, and Ned, who has never been great at making decisions, changes his mind to impress John. John has a boat Ned wants to borrow.
You present Ned with a bill, only now it’s higher thanks to all the changes you’ve had to make and the extra supplies you’ve had to buy. Ned refuses to pay – you obviously don’t know the first thing about painting, according to Bernie and John, and Ned only budgeted for the original amount. Sorry, but you get nothing more. In fact, Ned’s not so sure he should pay you anything since these guys seem to know more than you do.
Posses in the writing and editing process are exactly like that. You don’t know the person making the suggestions and you have no idea what their skill levels are, let alone why your client is so eager to take their advice. Since these people aren’t coughing up any money, they have no qualms about wasting your time and your client’s time chasing their ideas.
Not only that, now you’re working for someone you don’t know. You have to match the voice, taste, and desires of a person who wants a completely different product than your client asked for. You cannot please multiple people with multiple visions and directions on the same project at the same time. You just can’t.
Clients cannot expect you to respond to a third party critique without it costing them extra. Frankly, even then I advise against it – too often, I’ve seen client messages watered down and lost amid waves of friendly advice and editorial. You have to stay true to your client’s goal, even if they won’t. It’s often a no-win situation. You end up out of the picture and the posse takes over. If a posse enters your client’s project unannounced, make sure you have a clause in the contract that voids it at any change in the process, including a new person on that project.
Lori Widmer has thwarted the posse mentality successfully for over 15 years. She blogs about all things writing-related at http://loriwidmer.blogspot.com.