The Cella Slant: Client or Partner—what to call our customers

By Jackie Schaffer

It’s always an interesting conversation when creative leaders debate what to call our internal customers—are they clients or are they partners? A response I really enjoyed was “we call them partners when speaking with them, but we call them clients when speaking about them internally.”

I like this practice because it reminds our customers that we are partners…we all work for the same company, we each have “skin in the game,” and therefore want the same results. In addition, the word partner infers an equal, whereas client can be interpreted to be superior to the creative team because “the customer (client) is always right.”

Internal to the creative team I like using the word client, because it does infer we are “of service” to our customers. I want to be clear, I am not advocating subservience, as subservience is not a valued-added service and does not result in high-quality, effective outcomes. But creative teams do need to understand the importance of providing best-in-class service.

Regardless of what you call your client-partners, it’s about how you work together. But for some organizations, what you call them impacts how you work together.

Jackie Schaffer, vice president and general manager of Cella Consulting, is a former in-house leader who has consulted for teams of all sizes, including Fortune 500 clients, government entities and educational institutions and has the unique opportunity to speak with hundreds of creative leaders each year. Cella helps creative leaders and their teams identify and execute strategic priorities, so they can increase their effectiveness and focus on creating high-quality creative.

Cella is a co-author of the In-House Creative Services Industry Report and authors weekly blogs on business operations topics pertinent to the role of creative leaders.