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The Final Word on Final Words

Written By Üma Kleppinger | Nov 13, 2018

You know the feeling. You’re excited about the project you’re working on. You spend days crafting the perfect prose or designing the most laudable logo, and proudly submit your masterpiece to your client or boss.

Hours, days, or sometimes weeks later, they return their markup to you. Perhaps you welcome their input and gleefully make edits as requested and submit the revised draft for approval.

Who doesn’t love it when you get lucky and only have a couple of rounds of corrections before you arrive at that exalted and magical state: THE DELIVERABLE.

But maybe it takes so many change requests to get there that you start to question your career choice and begin googling job opportunities that don’t involve other people. Being a mail carrier suddenly sounds great; you get paid to exercise all day and the prospect of being bitten by a neurotic Labradoodle seems preferable to dealing with Client X.

Determined to make the client happy and fulfill your professional obligations, you soldier on until you, too, arrive in FINAL LAND. With a sigh of relief, you hit send to submit the final deliverable.

And then the call comes…

No matter the client, the industry, or the medium, the message nearly always begins the same way.

“We love the _________, but could you just…

Wait, wut? You got the client sign-off last week. After five rounds of drafts. And sure, you can bill for additional hours at this point according to your contract, but you’ve got other things to do, projects to crush, people to see. What’s an in-demand creative professional to do?

I’ve been a career creative for my entire adult life and I could swear this sort of endless feedback-loop wasn’t a thing before the arrival of a shiny new promised land called Desktop Publishing.

You’ve heard of first-wave feminism? Well, I’m part of the first wave of the desktop publishing revolution. Not, like, Gutenberg old, but old enough that the powerhouse computer of the day was a Macintosh 512K system. Smartphones? Pfffft. Not even a concept.

But whether you’re a veteran creative pro or a wet-behind-the-ears neophyte fresh out of Portfolio Center, I’m sorry to say this Final-Final-Final phenomenon appears to be here to stay. The relative ease and speed with which one can (theoretically) make changes has resulted in a double whammy of unrealistic expectations: on the one hand it encourages indecision, and on the other, instant gratification.

Picking away at a deliverable once it’s been approved—for whatever the reason—is likely to result in budget overages, a less-than-awesome product, and a strained client relationship.

Imagine if your chosen career wasn’t in advertising or design. Imagine you’re a plastic surgeon and your clients keep asking for more changes. You start out looking like Michael Jackson with a desire to look like Angelina Jolie and eventually wind up looking something Steve Jobs. AFTER being six feet under for seven years. Not good.

Ok that’s kind of a far-fetched scenario. What about something a little more realistic (and by realistic, I mean, a friend who’s a stylist recently went through this with a client).

You’re due for a haircut so you make an appointment to see your favorite barber.  You know, the one that serves small-batch bourbon from the local distiller while you’re in the chair. “Just a little off the top,” you say. Thirty minutes later, you’re freshly groomed and about to get dusted off, but nooo. You decide you want a little shorter cut. Or a different style altogether. The barber re-drapes you with the apron, and clips away. Still unsatisfied, you say take another trip down Revision Road.

This time you ask, “Hey, what if we just shave the left side off?”

Your barber has two choices, neither of which are great. The first is to say “who’s we”? He’s the one with the clippers in hand and he’s the one who will be blamed when your pasty, hitherto unexposed pate is shining like a Maine lighthouse in the dark. Naturally, you’ll declare the barber as uncooperative or “artistic” for failing to comply with your impulsive decision making.

The second option is that he agrees to buzz half of your head bald as a baby’s butt, but he’ll have to charge you for all this extra chair time. And possibly, extra bourbon. For himself.

Now, it’s arguable whether or not one’s haircut is as important as one’s web copy or logo, and I would in no way suggest a client should not request revisions. Clients absolutely should sign off on deliverables in a timely fashion in order to ensure a quality engagement.

Picking away at a deliverable once it’s been approved—for whatever the reason—is likely to result in budget overages, a less-than-awesome product, and a strained client relationship.

To ensure my clients understand what’s expected in the approval process, I’ve added a new clause I simply call the FINAL FINAL:

Once the draft copy has been approved and a final document generated, the deliverable will be transferred to Client. Any additional changes requested beyond this point will result in an additional fee of a bottle of 1964 Glenlivet single malt scotch (valued at $24,000 per bottle).

I make sure clients initial the FINAL FINAL clause, so they have to read it. It usually gets a chuckle out of them or some kind of Mad Men reference, and it opens the door to a conversation about taking deadlines seriously on both sides of the table. The good news is I’m not getting post-approval edit requests that go on ad infinitum anymore.

The bad news is there’s no Glenlivet in my liquor cabinet.

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