Who Should Have a Seat at The Table?

March 11, 2015 Tips



Multiethnic People with Startup Business Talking in a Cafe



Table Talk

Shortly after submitting a proposal for a project, one of the first questions a client will ask me is, “Can we stay within the budget and on deadline?”

My answer: “We’ll do everything in our power to help you.”

The truth, however, is that controlling the budget and timeline usually has more to do with the client than us. All you really need to do is answer one important question: Who should have a seat at the table?

The “table” is where special guests convene and are charged with establishing the creative brief; responding to the designer’s work; approving concepts, drafts, and final designs; and executing the launch plan.



Sometimes we’ll be in the final stretches of a project only to learn that the communications director needs to give approval before it goes to press.

“Communications director?” I ask. “I didn’t even know you had one.”

Or we’ll get an email saying, “Our biggest donor unexpectedly flew in for the weekend. Can you send him the final design for his feedback?”

I get it. The heretofore-never-mentioned communications director and your biggest donor are very important. But do they know about the project goals? What criteria will they use to make their judgment? Did they read the creative brief? Are they aware that for the last two months, a dedicated group of people has worked hard, grappling with aesthetic and content issues, to build consensus and move the design process forward—on time and on budget?

Too often I find that some of the most critical stakeholders were either not invited to the table or didn’t know they could make a reservation. What’s worse is when they are only brought in for dessert. It’s sweet for the client to think of them, but it’s really a recipe for disaster.

Here’s what might happen next.

“So sorry, Lisa! We didn’t realize our most important donor associates blue with his life-long water phobia. He had a very negative reaction to the work. Is there any way we can change the piece to orange?”

Gasp. “Well, um, yes. It’s possible. We can re-imagine your 70-page blue-on-blue water-themed annual report—scheduled to go to press, err, tomorrow—in orange. But please understand that while we are capable of executing miraculous feats of incomprehensible and astounding wizardry, your request will mostly involve more time and more money.”

No one wants to hear that!

What you do want to hear is yourself asking, “Who should have a seat at the table?” before a project commences.



Think about your objectives and who can help to accomplish them:

• Is the communications director essential?
• Does the brand manager add value?
• Are there key staff who can supply background and insights?
• What role should the leadership play?
• Would members of your target audience be an asset?
• Do your donors need to have a voice?
• Who is the best person to serve as project manager?
• Who is the skilled facilitator who can guide the group to reach consensus and approval?

Now it’s true that you don’t want to set up a banquet table. Involving too many people is neither efficient nor manageable. You can, however, identify key stakeholders who represent the interests of larger groups. That way, their voices are heard by proxy.

When the right people are assembled, they become invested in the process. They create the road map. They establish the criteria upon which to base their feedback. They understand both the relevance of the individual’s voice and the collective power of the group. Decisions get made, and together everyone gets the job done. Critical to the success of the project is getting everyone to sign on for the whole “meal”—from the creative brief to the launch. This ensures continuity and a process that is thoughtfully informed.

Start your list, and once your guests pull up a seat, I guarantee that you will eliminate unnecessary rounds of revisions, frustration, and a weighty design invoice.



Do you have a project in the pipeline? We’d be happy to offer tips on whom you should invite to your table. Then all you have to do is ring the dinner bell and get them seated. Masters Group Design is ready to serve you thoughtful, creative design, on time and on budget.


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