Here’s how it rolls: You finally get the opportunity to work with a great client. You have your initial meeting, go over objectives, even do up a creative brief. You agree on a budget range and go away to dream up the next big thing. All good, right?
Enter the Jr. MarCom manager. She’s been out of school for a couple of years with a marketing degree in her back pocket. She is the gatekeeper. Her job is to keep people away from her boss so that your client, the key stakeholder/decision maker, can address all the other projects going on. So she runs interference in an effort to save time.
But is this really the best, most efficient way to work? As Stephen R. Covey talked about in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” sometimes the “fastest” moves actually end up taking MORE time. Even though the gatekeeper is keeping the gate closed, supposedly to save time for the decision maker, the process of finishing your project gets drawn out that much farther, wasting time and killing productivity.
Let’s say you spend a week or so coming up with a campaign, idea or design for a product launch. Now you need to set up a meeting to passionately present your solution and get a sign off so you can get going on production.
Bam, you run smack into the gatekeeper. “Just send it to me, I’ll look it over and share it with the team.”
The MarCom manager looks it over, makes some suggestions and sends it back to you for a revision. You put the hours in, make the changes, and re-submit. After a few rounds of this, it finally trickles onto the desk of your client with as much passion as a cold fish. You get word that your client wants you to re-work it into something closer to what you started with. This goes on and on throughout the project. You waste a lot of time playing that old game of telephone with a go-between who can’t give up control, but doesn’t yet have the experience necessary to see the bigger picture.
After running into this a few times, here are my top three strategies for working with MarCom manager gatekeepers to keep clear lines of communication with the stakeholders and make the gatekeeper your new best friend.
1. Meet the gatekeeper face to face, even if it’s a 15 min. meeting. Your passion and ability to articulate the concept won’t get lost in an email, and you get the opportunity to show you know what you are talking about by having done your homework on the background of the project. If the manager sees you as someone she needs to manage, she will manage the hell out of you. If she sees you as an expert, she may give you the space you need to create.
2. From the very start, make it clear how important it is to have access to the decision maker when presenting the initial concepts. You can do this by limiting the number of revisions allowed before your creative costs start going up. Everyone wants a little creative control, but no one wants to cost the company more money.
3. Suck it up. Sometimes that’s the way it is. Take this time to mentor and educate the gatekeepers you work with, and eventually they will come up to speed and they will trust you as a knowledgeable resource. Today’s gatekeeper for one client, may just bring you a new client when she moves on or moves up.
Daniel A. Cardenas