While there are many clients that merely pay lip service to the idea of working as partners in communications, there are some who truly embody the concept.
I often use this space to voice my frustration with clients, the industry in general, or the world at large. A regular reader of this blog might conclude that I’m a curmudgeon, a label I wouldn’t be able to slough off so easily. Indeed, much of my cantankerousness stems from experiences in which I’ve felt that clients have treated me like a vendor, as opposed to a partner in communications. But I am glad — thrilled! — to report that effective partnerships do exist, and that it is a pleasure to work with clients who treat freelance writers as true partners.
A few months ago I was contacted by the sales training director for a smallish pharma company who needed a medical writer to develop a primer on a certain class of antihypertensive medications. (I was recommended to this person by a former client who had recently joined the company, and with whom I had previously collaborated on a series of oncology sales training materials.) After a brief, pleasant phone conversation, she engaged me to write the primer, which she was very happy with. A few weeks later she gave me another assignment: a whitepaper on a related topic. I was less familiar with this topic, but I had access to numerous useful sources, and figured it wouldn’t be too difficult.
At the time I was juggling several projects, some of which were rather complex due to their technical nature, and all of which had tight timelines. I was able to submit a first draft of the whitepaper before my client’s deadline, but I did so with the nagging sense that it wasn’t my best work. I wondered if I might’ve produced a better draft had I not been pressured by so many other assignments, and I prayed that my client would find the draft satisfactory.
About a week after submitting the first draft of the whitepaper, my client emailed me, noting that she had shared the draft with an in-house nephrologist, who had some concerns about some of the content. She wanted to schedule a phone call to discuss the nephrologist’s comments. I checked my calendar and agreed to speak with my client a couple of days later.
As the minutes ticked down to the time of my client call, I worried that she’d express her disappointment with my work, and that my relationship with her company was in jeopardy. But when my phone rang, an extraordinary thing happened: My client said she wanted to examine each of the nephrologist’s comments in detail, and then work with me to figure out how to address them. We then spent 45 minutes doing just that, trying out ideas on each other, and then agreeing upon a specific choice of words, or a specific line of revisions. The process was truly collaborative, respectful, and non-judgmental. We were two individuals putting our heads together to solve a problem, and the process worked.
To be fair, my unsatisfactory client experiences are the exception, not the rule. I have a handful of regular clients — some of whom I’ve worked with for years — and these relationships have succeeded because we regard each other as partners, not merely as client/vendor. Consequently, when clients take the time to work with me closely, to focus intently on solving a problem or meeting a specific need in a collaborative way, these clients are worthy of praise. While it may not always be possible to partner with clients in such a meaningful way, it’s these kinds of partnerships that make our work worthwhile. Hats off to the collaborative client!