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Getting Your Stakeholders to LOVE Your Next Project

Has this ever happened to you? You (or your team) have been working on a design project, you’ve shown concepts and have gone through a few rounds of revisions on design and content – only to be sent back to the drawing board by one of your stakeholders. What the heck just happened?

Requests for major redrafts such as this, which seem to come out of the blue, can be costly in terms of time and expense, but they can also inflict serious long-term damage to your team’s enthusiasm, energy, and creativity. This scenario is not uncommon, nor is it confined only to the very largest (or smallest) marketing teams. If repeated often enough, it can be demoralizing, leading to a breakdown in that highly desirable creative process that differentiates your brand, your product, or your organization — and which brings in revenue.

Despite how you might feel when this happens, your stakeholders are probably not being irrational or acting at random, and therefore there are actions we can take to avoid this happening in the future.

The key is to first begin by understanding this situation from the perspective of your stakeholders. What is making them request these seemingly arbitrary, or at least ill-advised changes? Why do they not share your enthusiasm for your design work? What is their freakin’ problem?!?

Five Common Reasons Your Stakeholders Are Not Buying Your Design

  1. Being Kept Out of the Loop

    This one’s easy. Your constituents are less likely to support an idea if they have not been brought on board. Stakeholders who are included in the discussions from the very beginning feel they have some skin in the game and will often go to bat as advocates for your ideas. Failing to include stakeholders in the discussions can also set them up for a late surprise, almost inviting them to fight you as a means of staging a protest. The most successful creative directors are able to encourage stakeholders to contribute their own ideas to the creative discussion, or make them believe that ideas that were pre-ordained were actually their creation.

  2. Confusing Subjective with Objective

    When a stakeholder reacts harshly to a design you’re presenting, it’s usually an indication that they are reacting to the aesthetic or emotional quality of the piece – not the underlying strategy. Coaxing this information out of your stakeholders can help you get a design back on the table, with some minor visual changes, instead of abandoning the work altogether.

  3. Not Understanding the Design Challenge

    Stakeholders may feel “underwhelmed” by your designs if they are not fully grasping the design challenge, that is, the problem which must be overcome by the design. Often, simply by clearly articulating the design challenge to your stakeholders, skillful designers can help their stakeholders understand the value in their proposed design.

  4. Not Understanding the Proposed Design Solution

    If stakeholders are just not getting it when they see your designs, it’s possible that they are not understanding how your design is solving the problem. Although you might feel that the stakeholder is just being difficult, this is a tremendous opportunity! It’s an opportunity to hear feedback from a different vantage point than your own, potentially helping you to improve your design and make it more successful, and it’s an opportunity to further galvanize your relationship with your stakeholder, securing their support. Don’t waste this opportunity by trying to persuade your stakeholder that they’re wrong!

  5. Raising a Legitimate Argument or Concern

    Likewise, if your stakeholders are making suggestions, requesting changes, or arguing somehow with what you’re proposing, it’s entirely possible that they’re raising a good point. It’s your job as the creative lead to assess their feedback, weigh it with the other information you’ve received, and devise a course of action in light of the merits or flaws of these suggestions – not simply to fight it, neither to bow down to it, but rather to benefit from it however possible.

Approach your next project with these 5 suggestions in mind. Building good alliances with your stakeholders is an effort that can pay enormous dividends over time. Good luck, dear penguin!

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