She never gets me what I need on time. 

He’s always asking for more changes. 

She can’t make up her mind!

Sometimes dealing with internal clients is the most challenging part of a project. But the truth is, as a creative services or marcomm professional, you need your internal clients. And lord knows they need you too. So, while you may not be able to choose your clients or dictate how they work, you can influence how they interact with you so you can get your job done. 

Here are some tips for dealing with five challenging internal-client personalities: 


#1: Last-Minute Linus

For those of us who like to plan and want schedules we can stick with, it can be very frustrating to work with someone who doesn’t think beyond right now. You can express your frustration with them, but the truth is most of these people are not going to suddenly become planners. It’s going to require some proactive work on your part. 

If your team consistently gets last-minute requests from this person, it’s time to educate your internal client on how much time you really require to do your job. After all, if you’re constantly pulling a rabbit out of a hat for him, he’ll never get it. 

Start by creating some general time frames for projects you’re asked to do often. In an ideal world, how many working days do you need to create a flyer or a webpage? Build a production schedule for each type of project and include time for research, copywriting, design, approvals, changes, etc. Internal clients often have no idea what it takes to actually put creative pen to paper. 

Ticket systems also can work wonders. They can help with organization while having the added benefit of reminding folks that they’re not your only client. 

And be proactive. True, your client should be coming to you earlier to ask for the next edition of a monthly newsletter, but if you wait for him to initiate, you’ll only end up hurting yourself. So keep a list of projects, and check in with the owners regularly to get the ball rolling. A quick email saying, “Hey, I know we did an annual giving report this time last year. Can we expect that to be coming our way again this year?” can really save your team a lot of headache. 


#2: Always-Right Roberta

Some people are simply not collaborative by nature. They have a “my way or the highway” attitude. They throw the J-word around a lot. “I just need a flyer.” “I just need some web graphics.” As if these things don’t take thought and effort. But deep down, you know that a couple of web graphics aren’t going to be effective for promoting X, Y or Z. 

This is where a creative brief comes in handy. By asking for such details as the goals of a project and intended outcomes, you can garner information to put together a proposal that will actually work. Just be sure to offer your ideas up for consideration and let your client make the final decision. “Hey Roberta, I love your idea of doing web graphics. How about an email campaign as well? I think it would really round out this promotion. What do you think?”

These people tend to be difficult to work with throughout the creative process. But try to focus on the project at hand, rather than the people involved. At AVC, we are results-driven and project-focused. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who wrote the winning headline or who caught the typo or who came up with the best design solution — ultimately, everybody contributed. Sometimes by shifting the focus to creating the best project and rallying a team around the piece itself, you can temper the impact of the gotta-be-right folks.


#3: Little-Direction Lyle

These individuals are the ones who expect you to be a mind reader. They don’t clearly communicate their objectives and give little direction beyond “an email blast” or “a white paper.” Sometimes the lack of communication is a result of time constraints. Sometimes they don’t even know what they want. 

As content professionals, it’s our job to draw it out of them. Insist on a creative brief that either they fill out or you fill out together during a phone call. Make it clear that there may need to be time built into the schedule for additional rounds of review. And check in often to elicit input. Get signoff on the creative brief before you begin work. Run an outline by him before interviews take place. Share mock-ups, sample designs, etc., and ask questions along the way as needed so there’s less rework to do later. 


#4: Poor-Feedback Frida

There’s nothing more frustrating than when an internal client tells you that you missed the mark on a project but doesn’t tell you how to fix it. As creatives, we need feedback — and we need it to be specific and actionable. 

The first step to dealing with someone who is not adept at giving feedback is to be open and eager to listen. Being defensive or argumentative won’t be productive. Make it clear you appreciate feedback — you need feedback — but you need more specifics. 

Ask her to point out what, if anything, she likes about the piece. Then ask what needs to change. Ask pointed questions, if you have to. What do you think of the headline? Is the tone of the copy too casual? Which colors do you like/not like? Then ask if she can show you any samples of projects she does like and find out why. 

Oh, and feel free to send along one of our previous blog posts on Giving Meaningful Feedback. Perhaps it will help her understand why feedback is so important. 


#5: Disappearing Dennis

What’s worse than not getting useful feedback? Not hearing back from an internal client at all. You email asking for source materials or maybe you’ve even sent a draft for review and … crickets. There are a few ways to deal with these types. 

First, email is your friend. Don’t expect this type of internal client to remember you asked for something during yesterday’s team meeting. Follow up with an email so everything is in writing. And include a deadline — a firm one. Skip nebulous phrases like “asap” and “at your earliest convenience.” 

Email again. As soon as your deadline has passed, follow up with a reminder email. Then pick up the phone or IM the person. Even well-intentioned people can lose track of their inbox. 

If all else fails, move on. Send one final email saying that you had to move on to other content requests, but you’d be happy to put this project back in your queue once you hear back regarding your previous inquiries. 


Get Personal

It’s not always easy to work with internal clients, but at the end of the day, you need one another. If you’re having trouble getting on the same page with any one person in particular, schedule a video call or — when it’s safe to do so — meet for coffee. Getting to know someone better than simply as the person on the other end of an email can go a long way to understanding one another and working better together.