Through referral, I connected with the very sort of talent I was seeking. His work was clean and elegant with a dash of verve that perfectly captured the spirit of the brand I was building.
Our first exchange—via email—was a tad worrisome. He seemed a little bent out of shape that he hadn’t been in on developing the brand strategy. But we worked it through and moved to a phone call.
That’s when it went off the rails. This brilliant, talented designer decided he would pitch me with how he always stands by his designs, no matter what. Curious opener, but I kept listening. And then he told me his killer story. The one he trots out over and over again to convince prospects to hire him.
It went like this. A very high-profile client (Mistake #1: yes, he used the name) hired him for a high visibility project to design the visual identity for a new company. The client “chose the wrong option” (Mistake #2: never show a client an option you’re not prepared to live with) and the designer was beside himself. How dare the client make such an error? All of his appeals fell on deaf ears—the client loved what was supposed to be a throw-away design.
So, without telling the client, he substituted his preferred design in the pivotal meeting unveiling the company identity to its key investors. (Mistake #3). As he tells it, the investors loved his perfect design and extolled its virtues to the client. Who (in this version) eventually forgave him and now tells the story himself.
I was stunned.
Pulling an intentional, very public sabotage of your own client? And bragging on it?
I knew in a heartbeat that I could not trust him and would never introduce him to a client.
But what made him tell me that story? It wasn’t an accident—he led with that story and was clearly proud of it. Had it won him other assignments with those who wanted a cowboy to ride with?
I suppose we could argue that it is a killer story for him. It encapsulates the experience of working with him and gave me an instant, compellingly clear decision.
Client sabotage isn’t a fence-sitting issue. It’s just wrong.
A truly killer story demonstrates that you can accomplish something great together—or take away pain points. Instead, he showed me a pathway to doubt and trouble .
Uh, no thanks.
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