Dealing With Difficult Clients And Their Strange Requests

Guest Blogpost by Diane Domeyer, Executive Director, The Creative Group

Dealing with difficult clients is one of the biggest challenges creative teams face. Sometimes they make such wacky, weird and absurd requests that you have to stop and wonder, “Did I hear that correctly?”

But once the initial shock wears off, how do you handle these oddball queries? To help answer that question, The Creative Group asked marketing executives to share the strangest request they’ve ever received from a client. Here are some of their responses, along with tips for managing awkward or impossible demands.

Little or No Knowledge of The Business

  • “How do I open, send or work with a PDF?”
  • “One client asked us to use a lighter shade of black.”
  • “Can you remove the links across the top of the screen? It makes the page too busy.”
  • “Can I use your scanner to create a color copy of my black-and-white photo?”

You may want to laugh when you hear these kinds of requests, but it’s important to treat every customer with courtesy and respect. So instead of throwing your hands up when dealing with difficult clients who don’t have much tech or design savvy, take some time to explain how things work. Obviously, you don’t need to teach the ins and outs of file formats or design software, but you can point colleagues toward helpful resources.

When a client’s request is simply impossible, provide alternatives. In the case of the last question above, for example, you might point out that most scanners can’t do what is being asked, but you’d be happy to research how much it will cost to colorize a black-and-white photo.

You Want It By When?

  • “One client asked us to do online work instantly.”
  • “I was asked to redo a layout for a presentation that was to begin in 30 minutes, even though the client signed off on it the previous day.”
  • “The client wanted us to complete a large-scale project in less than 48 hours, but it was something that would take at least a month to do.”

 Obviously, some clients have no concept of the amount of work it takes to pull off a polished and effective campaign. That’s why it’s so important for creative professionals to educate clients about processes and realistic time frames.

How? Use clear language, free of industry or technical jargon, when conveying why a project can’t be completed in a day, a week or a month. If a client insists on a faster turnaround and the deadline is not impossible to meet, explain how other activities will be impacted. Once they see the bigger picture, they may have a change of heart and reconsider their demands.

Blurry Boundaries

  • “I was once asked if I could hire a client’s family member to oversee the project.”
  • “We had one client who wanted us to run errands and walk his dog while he was out of town.”
  • “I was asked for my home phone number so I could be reached after hours if [the client] had any questions.”

When clients make dubious requests, the key is to set limits and stick to them. Calmly outline the scope of the project you’re taking on and any associated parameters, like when and where you can be reached. Provide a personal phone number that can be used in an emergency only if you’re comfortable with it. Often, dealing with difficult clients requires you to politely but firmly say, “Sorry, but I/we can’t.”

Constant Changes

  • “We have clients who often hover. They want to give input and make sure things are going smoothly, but their vision changes and they get in the way.”
  • “Some clients make countless revisions to their projects. It is very frustrating and work is never completed by the deadline.”
  • “A client took us out to discuss a project over drinks. Later, when we went over logistics, he said, ‘What is this?’ and wanted something totally different. It was like we were talking to two different people.”

One of the most common complaints executives reported when dealing with difficult clients is that they can be vague or change their mind on a whim, often at the worst possible time.

Protect yourself from wishy-washy and mercurial clients by establishing ground rules from the start. In the contract or statement of work, spell out your revision policy and make sure your client signs it. This step won’t eliminate indecisiveness, but it may prevent clients from making excessive adjustments.

Paltry Budgets

  • “One client, trying to save money, wanted only one person to work on a big project.”
  • “I’m the project manager and was asked not to manage because the budget was limited and the client said managers are useless.”
  • “I was asked to do a presentation pro bono.”
  • “A client asked us to provide free design services.”

Everyone wants to save money when they can. But sometimes difficult clients take it too far. Still, when someone wants to tap into your creativity and design savvy but balks at paying the price, don’t laugh and reject them outright.

Rather, present a tiered proposal with good, better and best options. The basic model could include two mockups and one revision, while the premium version could incorporate a faster turnaround and your most experienced designers. When clients have choices, they feel like they have control and are more likely to come to a reasonable agreement.

Quirky Queries

  • “One person wanted us to create a video about the relationship with her dog.”
  • “The client brought all of his dogs to the office to show what he wanted for a pet ad.”
  • “A client created her own artwork and asked us to use it.”

Some of these wackier requests may cause you to raise an eyebrow, but you just might find that working with whimsical clients brings a little levity to the job. Just make sure expectations for the final deliverable aren’t unrealistic. During the kickoff meeting, ask clients for as many details as possible to make sure you understand their vision.

Dealing with difficult clients can be maddening. However, it can keep you on your toes, add humor to your work day and help you become a better creative professional who can handle different personalities.

Diane Domeyer is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing agency connecting interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations talent with the best companies. More information, including job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and TCG’s blog, can be found at