What Are They Really Saying In Meetings? Part 1: The Client

Your Quick And Easy Guide To Understanding Client Speak

Two faced
Two Faced. Getty Images

When you work in the advertising and design industry, you will have to come face-to-face with clients sooner or later. Usually, it’s sooner. When you do, you will soon realize that what the client says is not exactly what they mean. There are several reasons for this.

First, the client comes from a different educational and experiential background than, for example, a copywriter, art director, or film producer.

It’s understandable that clients speak a slightly different language.

Second, the client never wants to reveal their true intentions in meetings, especially if they are not the final decision makers. To commit to something would be tough to do, because they could be overruled later on and will be made to eat humble pie. They may also want to reserve judgment for other reasons, including timing, costs, and so forth.

Third, clients are people, just like those in ad agencies. They know that something very blunt could result in hurt feelings, mistrust, aggression, or a lack of respect. Very few clients will come right out and say “I hate that” or “what a waste of my time.”

And finally, clients may have a completely different agenda to the creative agency. While you both come together to produce advertising, and your goal is to sell more product, there are things going on behind the scenes that neither party knows about.

So, language is often used to cover that.

With all of this in mind, here are some common phrases that clients have been known to use in meetings, with an explanation of what they most likely mean.

1: “We’re not ready to go there yet.”
Translation: “I’m not ready to commit to that yet, it scares me and I don’t want to be responsible for giving the green light to something that controversial.”

2: “That’s interesting.”
Translation: “I have no idea how to review that, so I’m giving you feedback that is non-committal and completely useless until my boss tells me what he/she really thinks.”

3: “It’s not really standing out for me.”
Translation: “I want it louder, brighter, more salesy, and with a massive logo in it.”

4: “Can we see something along those lines?”
Translation: “We want you to produce a ton of new ideas similar to the one we like, which we’ll reject in favor of the one you presented three rounds ago.”

5: “We’d like to see something more focused, or streamlined.”
Translation: “That’s way too expensive, make it cheaper.

6: “Can you take another crack at it?”
Translation: “I want to see more work that I can reject. You’re on a retainer anyway.”

7: “I love it!”
Translation: “I am going to call you in a few days with a bunch of changes that completely destroy the idea.”

8: “It’s not testing well around the office.”
Translation: “I showed it to my family, they didn’t get it.”

9: “We want you to really wow us.”
Translation: “Create weeks of work producing incredible ideas, which we can then reject in favor of a slightly updated version of the ad we usually run.”

10: “We want this to go viral.”
Translation: “We want everyone to know about us, but don’t want to pay anything to produce the work.”

11: “We want a great return on investment.”
Translation: See 10.

12: “I’ll know it when I see it.”
Translation: “I have absolutely no idea what I want, or I just don’t have the experience to tell you how to give me what I want.”

13: “You have so many great ideas, it’s hard to choose.”
Translation: “Sit down and strap in, you’re going to have to combine all of those ideas into one Frankenstein’s Monster of a campaign.”

14: “We’ll get back to you with our feedback.”
Translation: “We’re too spineless to say what we really think to your face. We find it easier to crush your ideas over the phone or by email.”

15: Complete silence
Translation: “We think this is great, but we don’t want you to know that yet.”