How to fail with a smile on your face.

So you want to be in film, eh? Make movies? Write a blockbuster? Maybe you’re an editor; an After Effects pro. You’re in marketing, you say? Budgets and expense reports? Well, you can read this too. Because no matter what area of videography you’re in, sooner or later, you’re going to screw something up. Now, there’s all kinds of failures that can occur at the workplace (such as deleting stock footage or not closing the bathroom door), but I’m going to focus on failing with the client-because it happens.
There’s an old adage about the customer always being right or something like that, and in a way it’s true and in a way it isn’t. Where you choose to agree or disagree with the client on this will greatly affect the amount of headache during the project, as well as the depression after your project gets keelhauled and handed to someone else. We have to be careful not to see our client as an enemy out to destroy our creative genius. They’ve hired us to do a job, and if they aren’t satisfied with it, then that’s all there is. When a client comes back and is unhappy with what you’ve done, the first instinct (usually) is to be offended (For the record, I’m not talking about little things like spelling errors or using outdated graphics you yanked off of their old website, but bigger things like artistic direction and overall appeal). Even if what you’ve done is exactly what they stated in your preliminary meeting (you had one of those, right?), chances are that once they see it on the screen, they may realize it wasn’t what they wanted at all. What do you do now? First, remind yourself that everything is going to be all right. Breathe. Now, look at the contract.
The contract is where it all begins. Your project, that is. You shouldn’t set a finger to a mouse button until a contract is in place. How the contract is worded will determine a lot, especially when it comes time for final payment. Some people have a generic template for contracts, and while I’m not against it totally, I do believe you have to have room to allow for specifics. Your contract should grow as your company does. If you’re able to learn from your mistakes, be sure your contracts reflect it. Case in point: a client asked to have a sample cut of a video we had clearly said wasn’t due yet or even ready for viewing. “I just want to show it to my sister”, they said. So we sent the video to them and a day later it was on the web. They had posted it and instantly it had been gathering negative feedback. “Too choppy”, “Amateurish”. Of course it had our name in the description. From that came a new amendment: If you post it before it’s done, it’s done. Final payment due. In other words, if you’re happy enough with it to show it to the world we’ve done our job: pay us. Your contract should also allow for re-edits to a certain degree. If there’s a typo, it’s our fault (maybe). We’ll fix it. You recently changed your logo? We can probably slide it in at a nominal cost. If we interviewed a guy who no longer works there, that’s different. Time is money and if we’re overhauling the video to save someone’s reputation, a new contract may be in order. Making sure your contract is as inclusive and direct as possible will help with the pain of a client who just can’t decide whether they like smooth jazz or funky calypso.
Long before the ink is dry, you’ll want to meet with your client to discuss what they want. Remind yourself they aren’t videographers. Also remind yourself that you aren’t in whatever field they’re in. (Unless they too are videographers.) You’re going to see things differently and they won’t understand all your CoDec/M-PEG gobbledegook. The fact you’re waving your arms while explaining it just makes it worse. Most likely they’re the third or fourth person who’s been assigned this adventure and everyone above them is telling them what they want. We filmed and edited a training video for the State of Ohio, and after our contact had the rough, it went through two different councils, several chairs and finally a CEO, all of which wanted edits and corrections, as well as their name in the credits. So when the client returns and tells you the colors are too kitsch, it may not be them speaking. Go easy on them. They’re not trying to hurt your feelings. So be sure to listen to hints about who all is involved. Your best bet is to request one person who will be the representative and deal only with that person. Regardless, your failure to please may be multifaceted. You can’t please everyone, so give yourself a break.
So your meeting went well and the contract is as clear as you can make it but the client doesn’t like what you’ve done. If time allows (and the person has the authority), you can have them sit with you and correct it. Some clients may be opposed to this, which means you can either haggle for a discount to save face, or admit defeat. If you do lose the client, like anything that dies, it’s important to give yourself time to grieve. Pretending that it doesn’t hurt you or that it isn’t personal is hog-wash. Part of you went into the project, and ignoring that can lead to serious problems over time, such as bitterness and client mistrust. Hindsight may reveal things you were too close to see, such as body language and real language, so take notes on what you think went wrong and ask opinions of coworkers to learn what could be done differently in the future. Because there will be a future. The sun will still rise and the world will spin, regardless of how bad you botch it all up. Which means tomorrow is a new day with new chances to do it better. Send that client a card apologizing. Throw in a gift certificate if you feel so inclined. But make peace and move on. Heck, write a blog about it.