Edgy vs. Cautious: Knowing your clients’ risk tolerance


We were up against the deadline for a client’s e-newsletter a few weeks ago.  The copy for a highly technical article had been reviewed by the client and one attorney, but we had not heard back from two other experts we’d asked to review.

“What do you think we should do?” the client asked.

It was a flattering question, because it mattered to him what I thought.  But I had to supply the right answer for him, not me. As I thought about my response, the experience “tape” running through my brain reminded me this is one of the most cautious, risk-averse clients with whom I work.  In their business, they should be cautious and risk-averse.

What is most important to them?  Being first to the market with important information?  Or holding the information a little longer and knowing they have every detail right?

I immediately had my answer: We can’t run the article until we hear back from all four experts and have every detail confirmed.  Being excruciatingly correct matters more than being on schedule in this case.

Risk is a funny thing. 

When developing creative concepts for clients, we should give them at least one idea that’s beyond their comfort zone. Why would they ask for new concepts if all they wanted was predictable “been there, done that” thinking?  We always include a few “comfortable” plans that are perfectly good options.

A productive, meaningful conversation usually arises when we discuss the “out there” options, even if one isn’t selected:  “What’s the downside of this?  And then, what’s the upside? that we’d get noticed? that we’d be perceived as a creative leader in our industry?”

Some clients want to be edgy.  My “out there” recommendations for them would be different than for the risk-averse client.

Likewise, my decision might have been different if my risk-averse client was facing the 6 p.m. TV news: make the deadline, but pare down your message to the facts we’re sure of.

We’re fortunate to have long experience with many of our clients – in fact, sometimes we have more institutional knowledge of the company than our client-contact person!

That experience allows us to inherently know each client’s values along the way, understand how they make decisions, and apply their success metrics.  Knowing who’s edgy and who’s cautious is a tremendous asset for high stakes decisions.

By Marilyn Shank, Vice President

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