How to manage client amends (and keep everyone happy in the process)

 |  In: Managing clients

Client amends. Two little words which have a big impact. Because after you’ve briefed, brainstormed, created and produced, it can be disheartening to say the least to be told ‘that’s not quite right’. While most agencies realise this is par for the course and creatives learn to develop a thick skin, there’s a fine balance between acceptable and over the top when it comes to amends.

Here, we’ll explore how agencies can manage them, keeping clients and creatives happy at the same time.

Six things agencies can do to keep on top of amends

It's incredibly rare for a project to pass without any amends from the client. In fact, most agencies would agree that an amend-free project is an urban myth. Most projects will need approval from a range of people at the client’s organisation, from the person initially responsible for the brief through to senior management and often legal teams.

While this is fine in principle, in practice it can lead to confusion, especially if people are making different comments on the same aspect of the job. It can also mean trying to please too many people with different agendas – for example, legal teams care about compliance but less about creativity.

Amends can also be time consuming, which can play havoc with your initial estimate and ultimately with your profits.

So, it’s clear this is an aspect of agency work which needs some careful management.

1. Be completely clear on the brief and its objectives

Getting the brief right in the first place can help to circumvent initial confusion. This is where skilled account managers come in. Asking questions upfront, not being afraid to say if they don’t understand, constantly clarifying and clarifying again... it all helps to develop a strong, easy-to-follow brief. Conversely, just passing on a client request of ‘Just see what you can do/come up with’ gives your creatives nothing to go on and is a surefire way to demoralise them when it’s (inevitably) not right.

Ask your client who the project is for, what it needs to achieve, why they’re doing it. This can help you push back and stay objective, especially if the client starts to become subjective.

2. Agree what constitutes an amend

Changing a word on a document takes a couple of seconds. Redoing an entire design or rewriting a whole document is essentially starting again. Establish upfront with your clients what is an acceptable amend and what is really a rebrief.

Your quote should detail how many sets of amends are included. But a set of amends is a fluid concept, so you need to pin this down. Often, the main client contact will give their initial feedback. This then goes to another stakeholder, then another. Then it goes to senior level. The whole job can start to unravel using this process, though, as it starts to move too far from the initial brief. And it’s incredibly time consuming. Establish with your client how to gather feedback, how many rounds of amends are included in your quote and tell them how you’d like this delivering.

3. Ask for written feedback and a call to discuss

This helps make sure you’re mopping up absolutely everything. Once you discuss feedback it may change, so make sure you’re giving your creative a fully updated document to work with – not drip-feeding more once you’ve spoken to the client. It can also help to avoid the issue of contradicting amends – the age-old issue of changing something then being asked to change it back after a stakeholder has seen it. You could also document any amends you’ve agreed not to make and why, so you can track back if necessary.

Include timings in your document, so your client is aware how long amends take. They might decide it’s a waste of budget if an amend is going to take two days, for example.

4. Manage your scope

If your client is asking for more amends than you’ve agreed on, tell them this is outside the scope of the job. Managing expectations upfront means this shouldn’t be a surprise to the client. But you need to make a commercial decision how to manage this. You could agree upfront that extra amends will incur a new fee. Or you could agree to absorb the new request, but keep your client informed of how much extra time you’ve spent.

A little goodwill can go a long way, and if it’s a client you want to keep working with this will stand you in good stead. On the flip side, if this is a client who habitually pushes the scope of the brief and demands more than they’re paying for, you need to think about if you want to keep working with them, as these clients can be a real drain on your profits.

5. Keep track of budgets

It’s a good idea to keep a specific track of how much time is spent on amends, rather than just putting the time all together against the job. This means if you do go beyond your agreed scope/budget you can go back to the client to discuss. You can add amends as a separate job phase in Synergist, which keeps your ‘amends pot’ distinct from the rest of the project.

6. Conduct a post-project review

Once you’ve put the project to bed, you can have a debrief with the client and team members who worked on it. Ask for everyone’s input into what went well, or what could be done better next time.

Amends are a standard part of agency life, but they’re up there with timesheets in terms of popularity. Accepting them and integrating them into your processes is a must. Making sure you have a strong, approved brief upfront and managing the way your clients feedback amends can help you stay on top of them, stay sane... and stay profitable.