Grand Valley wasn’t my first choice. It was too close to home, lacking in history and not one of the ungodly expensive universities many of my classmates were attending. The worst possible quality, however? My mom was a professor there. Naturally, I wanted out.
Despite my mom’s position, I attended, and even followed her suggestion to play my strengths and go into writing—imagine that, a teenager who (eventually) listened!
Since graduating, I’ve reflected on how much I’ve used my education in the workplace. The answer? Still TBD, but so far, a fair amount. While I haven’t crafted a 55-page communications plan book from start to finish, there are crucial elements from those plan books that have become imperative to how I approach my work.
There is one incredibly important factor, however, that can easily get lost in translation. While not every student gets a job at an agency right out of college, or even aspires for such a career move, client management is a fundamental skill that can’t be taught in the classroom.
What They Could Teach Me
- Clients exist.
There are people that hire your agency or firm for particular services. This is a transactional relationship that can end at any given time based on either party’s satisfaction with performance.
- There will be situations where clients won’t agree with your ideas.
You won’t always see eye to eye with your clients. Sometimes, they will hate your idea and you will hate theirs. It’s your job as a hired specialist to make sure you come to some common ground that will still ensure the company has its best foot forward.
- The client is not the expert.
Although some clients may be difficult, it’s your job to make sure they’re getting the right advice.
And What They Couldn’t
- Clients are human.
Naturally, we are all human, but when in class discussing projects for theoretical clients, it’s hard to put a face behind the assignment. But they’re not distant, corporate robots in pantsuits who will either love you or make your life challenging. Quite the opposite, they’re people who have bad days, good days and days in between, as we all do. It’s our job to listen to what they’re saying—directly, and between the lines—and understand where they are coming from.
- Clients are passionate.
About their company, about their brand, about the industry. It’s truly amazing to watch people light up when they talk about how they love their job or their company’s mission. Understanding the core of the job-brand-mission is the first step to finding that common ground. Negotiation over strategy or tactics should always be approached as a win-win situation, not a battle to the death. If you can capture the client’s vision in a more realistic way, that is true success.
- There are many different characters.
There’s no cookie-cutter client. Some will open their hearts to you and will take in every suggestion you have for them. Others will be skeptical toward your counsel and will remain on a strictly professional level with you. While both kinds of relationships and those in between can lead to success, finding out what works for both client and specialist and then understanding the boundaries of the relationship is crucial for a healthy exchange, whether more personable or not.
This blog is no slam to my alma mater or any institution for that matter. It’s also not a “the system is ruined!” political piece questioning the social construct that is college. I am forever grateful to have received an outstanding higher education from dedicated and incredibly knowledgeable professors who gave me pretty close to realistic projects involving willing (and patient) community members as clients.
Client management is just a life-long skill you can’t enroll in for a semester or two.