The High Cost of a Failure to Communicate

We recently heard of a bad situation that might have been avoided if more attention had been paid to better communication.

An associate was called in by their client’s marketing manager to help rescue a project that had gone far over budget but still required design revisions and print production to bring the piece to completion.

The design studio that was hired to produce the client’s promotional brochure had agreed to a budget of $1,500. Over the course of 4 week’s production the client’s marketing manager had reviewed design proposals and pre-press proofs.

In addition, the piece had been through client revisions that included minor modifications to the design along with copy revisions. At this point the marketing manager requested a breakdown of costs-to-date from the studio.

The studio was slow to respond. When the request was repeated, the studio answered by submitting an invoice for $7,000 – over budget by a whopping $5,500! In addition, some of the client’s requested revisions had not been incorporated into the artwork, and no breakdown of fees-for-service was provided.

This manager’s predicament could have been avoided. The interests of both the client and the studio could have been protected if the studio had followed a few professional procedures including:

  • Submitting a contract to be signed outlining the terms and conditions under which the work will be completed. This should specify how cost increases will be communicated. Verbal agreements leave both parties at risk. See our sample contract here
  • Providing an estimate detailing clearly what the deliverables are that includes a spreadsheet itemizing the estimated time for each task, and the rate being billed. This can be checked against interim and final invoices, and referenced against any costs that run over budget
  • Providing a schedule for delivery and a clear accounting – on an ongoing basis – of project progress and budget to date, and notice if current or proposed work will exceed budget. For a studio, project estimating and project management go hand-in-hand and, when it comes to invoicing, no one likes surprises

The situation in this case remains unresolved. Regardless of the outcome, it will probably cost both parties: the marketing manager may need to deal with unexpected expenses; the design studio has likely lost a client.

Clients expect designers to create good visual design that communicates with their audiences, but they should also expect them to be good communicators at all levels.

That is one way that trust is earned and relationships are built; how one-time customers become long-term clients.

It’s not always easy to quantify the value of long-term relationships in business, but there’s no doubt there are benefits. We’ll look at these in our next blog.

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