Client Relations – Who is in Charge?

Who is in charge?

When you are working for anyone other than yourself, you are operating as a service provider. If, however, you were an executive in charge of the production, you could make all of the decisions required to complete the work at your own discretion. 

Working in a service position for a client means that the power to make decisions about the content is not always in your hands. You will be reliant upon other people to make executive decisions and to provide you with the resources you need to complete the product.

However, problems can arise when there are conflicts between the protocol in an organizational structure and the protocol in a project structure.

For example, as the creative media producer, you will be reliant upon the contributions of stakeholders to approve and refine the final product, such as:

  • Reviewing works-in-progress for feedback.
  • Providing precise edits to the voiceover script and on-screen text.
  • Approving choices in music or other aesthetic elements.
  • Reviewing branding elements (logos, colors, layout, etc.) for usage compliance.

When there is a deadline for completion, receiving timely feedback is critically important  o that you have enough time to address the comments and make the edits required for drafting another revision.

What happens if a client does not do their part and sits on a work-in-progress draft for days and days without providing you with any feedback?

Project authority versus organizational authority

Creative media producers and their clients need to be on the same page about the difference between project authority and organizational authority.

Organizational authority is the hierarchical scheme of day-to-day accountability built into the staffing structure of an organization. Every staff member reports upwards to a person who, in turn, is accountable upwards to someone else. Under normal circumstances, a person in higher authority can direct a person under their supervision to perform tasks with an expectation that the directives will be swiftly carried out according to the supervisors wishes.

Sometimes, however, media production projects require a temporary reconfiguration of the lines of authority so that it is possible for work to actually get done. This is to say that media production projects require overriding the organizational authority structure because of the absolute deadline-driven nature of media production. Under these circumstances, a set of project authority rules should be proposed and implemented as the basis for assuring that milestones are met in the production process and that the final product can be delivered on time.

Project authority is a temporary project-based realignment of the lines of accountability so that conflicts between organizational authority and project authority do not cause log jams or missed deadlines. While project authority may temporarily override organizational authority, it would only occur according to the needs of a given project, and would expire at completion.

Why is project authority needed?

The rationale for even suggesting the implementation of a project authority scheme is because it is unnatural for individuals in executive or management positions to prioritize requests for their attention or to produce information when the request comes from a subordinate, especially when a person is normally in a service position.

Indeed, suggesting that the media production person ought to hold some kind of authority position over management or executives may cause friction–especially if the people who are involved in the project have not had prior experience with the process of media production.

Proposing a project authority scheme

There is no singular way to propose a scheme of project-based accountability to your client, but there are certain axioms of project-based accountability that you will want to articulate to your client in advance so that individuals in a higher organizational position than yourself will understand the special context of your communication.

Accordingly, your clients should understand that their timely participation is an integral part of the project being completed:

When milestones have been established for project completion, it will be expected that works in progress will be reviewed by stakeholders in time for the media producer to respond to their feedback and produce the revisions to meet deadlines. This will prevent unexpected idle time spent waiting for information and late nights doing work that could have been done during the day.

When there are situations where the only way to move forward in the project is if someone in high position in the organization provides a document or some sort of resource, there is an expectation that the request for those resources will be responded to in a timely way, even if the person requesting it is a subordinate.

Your client should tactfully convey this information to their superiors so that it is understood that the media production person is operating under a set of circumstances that supersedes the usual organizational accountabilities.

Your client should also explain to you how to contact them in situations where individuals are not responding to your requests (also known as “recourse”).  It is critically important that a path of recourse is established in advance so that if you are not receiving the responses you need to continue working forward to meet deadlines, you know exactly how to initiate resolving it.

Client Relations Scenario

You are working with a vice president who is hierarchically above you in the organization. This person is the only one who has a particular document that you need in order to complete an element of your on-screen graphics (such as a chart or some statistics).

You have requested that they submit this document to you many times over the past few days and they have not responded. The deadline is approaching, and you are certain that, once you receive the information, you will spend several hours rendering this new information into the video.

Response

With whom should you speak, and how should you phrase the situation? (Describe exactly what you would say).

What is your goal in this situation? What kind of situation are you trying to avoid?

License

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Foundations in Visual Media Production by Steve Covello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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