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Doreen Lorenzo: Clients Don’t Deserve Surprises

According to advertising maven David Ogilvy, “Great hospitals do two things. They look after patients, and they teach young doctors. We look after clients, and we teach young advertising people.” It’s an apt comparison. Like doctors, creatives are regularly called upon to educate their clients, and a good bedside manner is crucial.

Client relationships are the bedrock of innovation at Frog Design, a global innovation firm founded in 1969. To name just a few of Frog’s accomplishments: they partnered with Apple to create the revolutionary Apple IIc in 1982; they designed the highest grossing e-commerce site of its time, Dell.com, in 2000; and, more recently, they created the popular Roku Netflix video player.So how do they do it? We sat down with president Doreen Lorenzo for a conversation about how Frog “looks after clients” and “teaches young designers” – and how both of these elements play into the company’s remarkable ability to create break-through products.

Different clients make decisions in different ways – some can make snap decisions, some need to sleep on it. How do you deal with that when you’re trying to sell in an idea?

I don’t think clients deserve surprises. By the time the client gets to the meeting, they should know the direction the project is going in. You’re taking them down a path, and you’ve explained what it is. At Frog, every client has a project site, and everything is on that project site, so they can access it 24/7 anywhere in the world. Because we know everybody is global and moves around a lot.

We’re always giving them up-to-date information. We have a mantra here that you can’t over-communicate to a client. There’s never too much information that you can give a client. It’s important that you give them the good and the bad, keeping them abreast of whatever is going on.Innovation is really tough on the client. They have committed to doing something that’s unique and different. At some point, there’s that sinking feeling in their stomach, like “Oh my god, did I make the right choice?” And our job is to make them feel confident that they have done that – to take them down this path where they can feel really good about these decisions. And there’s nothing like constant communication to help them through that.

We have a mantra that you can’t over-communicate to a client.

How do you prepare your designers to pitch clients?

Internally, we have lots of training that goes on. We do pitch classes. We talk about good presentations, and bad presentations, and what works, and storytelling. We take our teams through what that means.

You mentioned storytelling. What are the other things you emphasize?

It’s got to be good storytelling, great visuals, and consistency. The ability to have an opinion. I believe that nobody should go to a meeting without an opinion. You don’t go to a meeting to be a decoration. You go to a meeting to have an opinion, to have a point of view, and to talk that through. That’s what our clients are paying us for.

A lot of our business is with CMOs, with CEOs, with CFOs. Because, usually if you’re doing something new, it costs money for a client. So you have to have the ability to answer questions under fire. To be able to speak through, and be articulate, and be confident that this is the right decision.

I believe that nobody should go to a meeting without an opinion.

What’s your thinking on the value of educating clients?

You only have to educate a good client for a short amount of time. Because, once you educate them, there’s this trust factor that happens between you and the client. So you might educate them the first couple of projects, but the third, fourth, fifth project they’re listening to you. And you’re coming up with ideas – because you know them, and you know what’s good for them – and they’re listening to you. That’s where the real magic happens.
Think about it like this: The client comes to you, and usually they come to you because they have an issue to solve. So our job in the first project is to help them solve that issue. And in a very polite fashion, you do a great job. Where the magic happens is as you build that relationship with them.Because you’ve educated them, and they understand you, and you understand them, you can have a real dialogue with the client. And that’s where the excitement is. I think some of our best projects are born out of that.

Can you share some tips for young designers?

I think one of them is be curious. Don’t ever be afraid to take a risk. Learn how to communicate, learn how to have an opinion. I think, with young designers, they have to learn that an opinion is not necessarily a criticism. Because that’s something that you can learn from. If you listen to what people are saying, and you really understand how that applies to making something better, that’s how you grow as a designer.

What Do You Think?

Have you found that the best work comes out of the best client relationships?

What are your tips for cultivating great clients?

More insights on: Clients, Innovation, Interviews

Jocelyn K. Glei

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As Editor-in-Chief and Director of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei leads the 99U in its mission to provide the “missing curriculum” on making ideas happen. She oversees the Webby Award-winning 99u.com website, curates the popular 99U Conference, and is the editor of the 99U books, Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential.
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