Never Use the C-word in Mixed Company


You know what I hate? Clients. Not the individual people or the companies. I hate the c-word. It’s just not a good word.

So I was wrapping up a nice week of freelance work at this little ad agency. Busy, complete with the expected learning curve where I try to figure out what the hell the Creative Director wants and he tries to figure out why the hell I suck at taking creative direction. And then you get past that and get stuff done. Headlines come out your ears, he inevitably picks the worst of the lot, and I get paid to wax poetic, or wax boring depending on what spins your buttons, and it’s a good week. Nice people, doable deadlines, creative-ish loft space with tables that kinda say, “I wish I’d gone to architecture school” and bottomless coffee. Two thumbs up.

Enter the C-word

It was Friday, and we’re chatting about next week- his work flow, my availability, deadlines I have with another “client,” blah blah blah. I guess this guy’s technically a client, cause I’m freelance, but normally I’d think of him as the CD or creative boss man and the client’s the brand I’m working on.  But the c-word’s a slippery, slimy little bugger. And that other client? I consider him a writing partner. A full on, equal on equal collaboration team of surprisingly well-matched spectacular.

Creative Director Client: Well, I don’t have much coming in, so you can fully focus on your other client, blah blah blah client blah client blah blah client client client. If I have any emergencies roll in can I give you a shout?

Me: Yeah, perfect.

And I suddenly wanted to grab the nearest rubbish bin and heave like I did that one time when I ate two cookie sheets worth of coconut macaroons (I was probably eight).

When we call someone that — “client,” I mean — we’re making them the automatic anonymous enemy.

This monster doesn’t hide in the closet; it wears an awkward looking suit, and it comes with luggage and laptop bags overflowing with jargon and weird power trips, and meetings in conference rooms that kill nice ideas and make them fugly. At least that’s the deranged expectation. And it’s also something I’ve been called, on occasion, when I am in fact…a c-word.

* gasp *

I don’t know why this average Friday conversation sparked this epiphany of nausea.  Up until this point I’ve never realized how much I hated the word or how damaging it was in the larger scheme of things until it was applied to a partner. I wanted to correct it. I wanted to blurt out, “Hey, don’t call him that! Don’t call him the C-Word!” But that would be weird.

“Why not? That’s what he is.”

“No, it’s not. Don’t call him that. Don’t call yourself that! WHERE in Tebow’s name is your SELF RESPECT?!”

BUT, For lack of a better term, that’s exactly what my current partner is, the “other client.” He had a spectacular idea, and wanted me to work on it, and I thought it was spectacular and I wanted to work on it, and felt super excited that he wanted me to work on it. And he recognized that if I’m gonna do what I do with him (which is to write shit. Get your head out of your pants), I have to eat. So I have to get paid. It’s basic economic theory. And then we both do what we can to turn it into the best little gemstone this side of Utopia. But just because there’s an exchange of moola, he becomes le dread client. And the funny thing is, it would never cross my mind to call him that to begin with. The headhunters started it.

Me: I’ve got this project that’s gonna eat up all of next week.

Them: Okay, so I’ll tell So and So over at Such and Such and Partners, that you have another client your committed to.

C-word. Fuck. But on this side of business it’s clear. You can’t argue with client. It makes things sound oh so professional. And that’s what we are, right? But enough about that. The more pressing question here is, Why? Regardless if “client” technically describes someone I’m working with, or even if I’m the client in a given scenario, why do I have to stifle my gag reflex every time someone drops the C-bomb?

“Oh, well I have a client meeting, and my client’s coming in, and oh, well there’s this client dinner thingy I can’t possibly miss it, I’m very important. I mean this client is very important. I can’t make your birthday party, cause this client thing. Golfing with a client. Did I mention I have clients? Clients who pay me gobs of money to be a bore and tell the world that I have clients. Clienty-client-clients.”

It’s like you just ate a whole tray full of coconut macaroons.

But I don’t think the token annoying insecure self-important buffoons of the world can really be held accountable here.

What sits across from client? Supplier? Consultant? Mushy Eggplant? Slave? Yeah, that feels about right. And as a writer-slave I’m supposed to know the proper term for absolutely everything, including the better-half to “client,” and I don’t have a fucking clue what it is.

Just please don’t tell my “clients.”

Slave perspective: The client is an idiot. Why an idiot? Because they hired you to do something they need help with? That’s actually pretty smart, yet we expect all clients to know what we know and be as quick to skip along and see our vision, and ask them to just trust us regardless if they “get it” or not.

Client perspective: My slave’s an idiot. Why can’t they give me what I want? Why can’t they read my mind? This isn’t what I asked for! What exactly am I shelling out all this moolah for, I COULD DO IT BETTER MYSELF!

Don’t call me client, and I wont’ call you client. Deal? It stinks. It stinks of incompetence. It stinks of a completely screwed up working dynamic. It usually suggests one’s in control and one’s the bitch. It often means the one with the money has half a brain cell and a serious ego problem, and the one working for said money has not the money, but has the ego.

We need a new C-word.

Or maybe…MAYBE we all just need to get laid.

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