How would Don Draper pull this off?
June 25, 2014 2:55 PM   Subscribe

If Don Draper were a graphic designer, how would he convince a client that his job was indispensable? Any examples on how he handled condescending clients?

Some clients don't see the value in what graphic designers do. For them it's purely decorative and some of them even joke about designers going to their coloring books for a project. How can designers give themselves an air of prestige, and is there a winning Draperesque pitch that can convince even the most patronizing of clients that graphic designers are not only important, but essential?
posted by cyrusw8 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Don Draper wouldn't certainly managed clients and their expectations, but he also was not afraid to draw a line in the sand with clients for whom he had no desire to work with, in particular the pompous and condescending. I realize it doesn't exactly answer where your question is going in terms of how to win and convince *your* condescending clients, but if you really want to go full Draper on them, you need to know what your walk-away point is, and be ready to accept the consequences thereof.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:22 PM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

After developing a local reputation over several years as *the* technical marketing team in town, we're in the opposite position - we need to add a heavy-duty designer to our team in order to bid on more lucrative projects.

It's really crazy, because there are marketing shops in town that make beautiful websites that don't generate any leads or convert visitors into customers. And so we usually get called in after the fact to make the website do what it really is intended to do - help sell product or services. Yet the design shops out there get the contracts because what clients are sometimes looking for is the experience of working with a designer and a creative agency. We're a few guys working out of our homes doing technically interesting work that generates results, but we are definitely not sexy.

So, take a step back away from the clients, and go after agencies. They don't have to be technical like us, since in our small-city market, there are few agencies that are as technical as we are.

But look for agencies that have strong coding skills and like to make interesting websites. The websites may not have a conversion funnel, but at least they are trying. That shows you they have budget.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:30 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you read Mike Monteiro's work? There's a blog and he's also got a book. His point of view may help you to present yourself in a way that's authoritative and professional. He's also a big proponent of not working with people you don't respect and who don't respect you.

Don Draper is confident. That's his magic. He takes the helm and teaches his clients as he shows them the best path. I think the best approach is probably a blend of developing confident expertise and building a mutually respectful relationship. The client is probably not a design professional, so you have to present yourself and manage the relationship in a way that gives them confidence that you can lead them and know the best approach for their project.
posted by quince at 3:32 PM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

...and is there a winning Draperesque pitch that can convince even the most patronizing of clients that graphic designers are not only important, but essential?

Not really. The clients you're speaking of don't ever really get it. They probably can't even recognize the difference between your work and something they had their nephew toss together. Your best hope is to create a new piece for them and hope they see a positive result. Or, at the very least, someone whose opinion they respect says they really like the new brochure.

It's doubly-difficult if your clients are in the tech arena. That crowd has a real burr up their asses when it comes to design or anything trying to appeal to a sense of aesthetics, let alone a Draper-esque pitch that talks about feelings, emotions, or any such unquantifiable subtleties.

In the end, it's hit or miss. It just really depends on who is sitting in the decision-making chair. I've been lucky to have worked for people who understood the difference a good designer can make for them.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:33 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

You want clients that value designers. You don't want clients you have to convince that design in essential. Selling yourself is part of the job. Educating adversaries is not.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:42 PM on June 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

Seconding the Design is a Job book. It's exactly this. From the intro:

I love you most of all. And I am tired of seeing you get your ass kicked because no one taught you better. I am tired of you not getting paid. I am tired of you working nights and weekends. I am tired of you doing spec work because someone has convinced you it will look good in your portfolio. I am tired of you sitting by and hoping the work sells itself.

So I wrote you a book. It has a spine and by the time you’re done reading so will you.

posted by brentajones at 4:36 PM on June 25, 2014

You solve real business problems for your clients. The fact that you are doing it with good design is incidental. Save our make them money and you become indispensable.
posted by COD at 4:45 PM on June 25, 2014

You don't need Don: you need Pete. When I was handling web and print design at a corporate level, the guy who got all of my business was:

a) always available by phone
b) always friendly, nice and accommodating
c) fast and followed through with his fastness

Basically, I was designing in-house brochures, and the managers, the software engineers, the upper management, they all had a pass at it. So that meant many proofs. I would call this guy, and he would say, "no problem, we will pick up your disk and get you back a proof in the morning."

But it wasn't just that: he was genuinely friendly and sympathetic to my needs. I was under a deadline and he just sort of walked me through it, it was all "no problem!" and stuff like that. And I am sure the guys in the print shop were going, wtf? But they did catch a rule line that I had left in by mistake and call me on it before it went to final print (phew!).

So I would say a designer needs a Pete, not a Don, and maybe not someone as smarmy as Pete, but friendly and professional and willing to talk goes a long, long way when servicing frantic clients.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:57 PM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I realize that's a bad example, as I was doing the design work, but the gist is the same, you need to handle clients like Pete and be the Don at the same time. I wish I had had a Pete to go to bat for me with my "clients," all the bosses and managers.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:10 PM on June 25, 2014

Sounds like their understanding of design as a concept is shallow, at best. Perhaps Don would take them through a list of objects and rituals they use and experience every day, then surprise them with a twist ending that at its core, that is what design is all about. Form that acknowledges the human need for beauty, utility, and accessibility.

He might also spring surprise like, why did you buy that watch you are wearing? How about that car you drive? It's probably all because of good design.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:10 AM on June 26, 2014

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