It’s autumn, which means it’s football season and, for Patriots fans like me, a typically winning one at that. Watching football recently, it occurred to me that just as there are various positions and personnel in any pigskin contest, so too there are various roles that a client must play when engaging with a creative team on a project. Given that there are 11 players per team on the field at any given time, here are 11 football-analogous roles for clients.
1. General manager.
It’s the role of the general manager to put the team together. Through a proposal process or from referrals, the GM must select the creative professionals with the right blend of talent and commitment who can execute the coach’s game plan. It’s the client’s responsibility to make that determination.
2. Head coach.
Any client working with a creative team for the first time should be able to provide the background, context, and direction that informs the work to be done. Like a coach, the client has to deliver all the relevant information and set the clear expectations that enable the creative team to do their best work.
3. Special teams.
Whatever the composition – client and writer; client and designer; client, writer, and designer; client, writer, designer, and programmer; client, designer, and photographer – the union of clients and creative professionals forms a very special team of talented individuals dedicated to achieving the goals of the project.
During the project, as during a game, the quarterback is the leader, the field general. The best quarterbacks know how to get the best out of their skill players by putting them in position to succeed. Internally, quarterbacks get credit for wins and blame for losses, but thanks to their leadership it’s always a team effort.
5. Running back.
In many cases, when there is an internal need to create materials that will help achieve strategic goals, the client is the one who is expected to take the ball and run with it. It is important, therefore, that clients always keep their legs churning forward and never fumble the ball.
6. Offensive line.
A client needs to be a good blocker, protecting the creative team from interference and internal issues that can cause delays. In addition to blocking, a good O-line will head downfield and clear obstacles out of the way, enabling the creative team to make the best progress possible.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebackers play a lot of roles, including plugging gaps in the D-line where problems can develop, making tackles that stop those problems in their tracks, and intercepting errant balls during the review process so that the team and the project stay on track.
Typically, the safety plays farthest back on the field; they are literally the last line of defense. Therefore, the buck stops there. To be an effective safety, clients must be sure that errors or inaccuracies are found and fixed, approvals are managed among internal reviewers, and final approval is given both firmly and in a timely manner.
Every so often, there are differences that need to be resolved. They could be conflicting comments from internal reviewers, changes in scope that reopen budget discussions, or choosing one name, tagline, or design over another. The client must blow the whistle, make the call, and stand by it.
10. Chain crew.
The chain crew play an important role by standing on the sideline and indicating the current field position, the current down, and the field position needed to be gained to get a first down. These functions may be carried out by a member of the creative team known as a Project Manager, but clients can and should always be on top of where the project is in relation to its deadline and budget, and what steps remain until the end zone is reached.
The relationship between client and creative team must always be cordial and collaborative. Trust and respect are cherished, and a pat on the back is always welcome. Pom-poms are optional.
With clients performing these roles – doing their job, as Bill Belichick would say – creative teams have the tools, information, access, focus, and support needed to do their best work and achieve the client’s goals. It’s a win-win for all involved.