Dealing with Difficult Clients and Their Strange Requests


Occasionally dealing with difficult clients is expected in any line of work. The Creative Group recently asked advertising executives to share some of the strangest client requests they’ve ever received. Here’s a roundup of the “best of the worst” responses and some tips on how to deal with hard-to-please clients while preserving your sanity.

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Photo by Tim Gouw

1. “I’ve been asked to work from a client’s home.”

Anyone who has experience dealing with difficult clients knows this type. They have no clue about etiquette or boundaries and think nothing of inconveniencing others.

Pro tip: While it may be tempting to burst out in laughter at your client’s suggestion, you likely don’t want to lose their business. A better response would be to thank them for the invitation and then tell them you’re most productive and creative at the office. If they still need to be persuaded, mention that having easy access to your computer equipment and coworkers is essential for delivering the best final product.

2. “One client wanted a 90-day job done in only 30 but refused to pay a rush fee.”

Many creative professionals have received unreasonable demands like this. Other survey respondents said they’ve been asked to create a logo in an hour, a video in two hours and a newspaper ad for the following day.

Pro tip: The key to dealing with difficult clients is to learn how to say no politely yet firmly. Even if you’re a freelancer and could use the extra income, don’t be tempted to accept a job that will set you up for failure. When you’re asked to meet an absurd deadline, diplomatically educate your client about the processes that go into a creative project and offer a more realistic timetable. If you reach an agreeable date, reprioritize your projects to deliver on time. If they balk, thank them for considering your services and then walk away.

3. “When creating a winter scene, the client asked if the snow could look warmer.”

Dovetailing on the winter-scene request, another advertising executive said a client once asked for “a lighter shade of black.” Before you get flustered by a preposterous idea, think about this: Some people just have difficulty articulating their vision.

Pro tip: Don’t assume the client is unintelligent or wrong. Rather, simply ask them to explain what they mean when they ask if it’s possible to make the snow “look warmer” or to use a “lighter shade of black.” Perhaps adding a subtle golden gleam or using charcoal gray might do the trick.

4. “One client wanted me to copy a competitor’s website and use it as their own.”

Dealing with difficult clients sometimes involves explaining plagiarism, copyrights, patents, trademarks and ethics.

Pro tip: Design professionals must sometimes clarify for clients why they can’t fulfill a particular request. If asked to copy another organization’s work, briefly detail the consequences of violating intellectual property law. Then explain how your team is well-equipped to create unique and compelling original content for the client.

Other cases of dealing with difficult clients:

Here are some more examples from the survey of client requests that defy all reason:

  • “I was asked not to manage a project because the budget was limited and they said managers are useless.”
  • “A client asked us to work for 48 hours without a break.”
  • “One client asked if we could go to frat parties and promote their app.”

Pro tip: Creative professionals are bound to encounter preposterous client requests on occasion. When dealing with difficult clients’ demands, always respond with tact. Briefly explain why the request is impossible or out of scope, offer an alternative that you both can agree to, and be prepared to walk away from the job if necessary.

Dealing with difficult clients comes with the territory in the creative industry. By keeping calm and remembering the basic principles outlined above, you’ll be able to handle any client request, no matter how off the wall.

Related Resource: If you’re a professional designer, you know what it’s like to lose creative battles. Design and marketing have changed from a purely idea-centric field, to one that has to provide creative business solutions. In the online course Creative Strategy & the Business of Design, you’ll learn how to integrate business considerations into your creative strategies. Learn how you can play a role in the conversations that usually happen before and after a brief is dropped on your desk. Learn more and register.