The Creative Industry: People Skills Required

(originally published in Screen Magazine 4/4/12)

How important are people skills on your company’s priority list?

I know a guy working in the Chicago post-production community who is a fantastic salesman. He’s really an audio mixer by trade, but a fantastic salesman never the less. I’ve sat in on sessions with him and watched him work. In the middle of an edit he’ll turn around and explain to his clients what he’s doing and why. He not only engages his clients with his professional and likable personality, he includes them in on the process.

On the other hand, I’ve worked with another sound mixer who rarely turns his chair around during a session. The only time he expects to hear the client’s input is after he says (in a monotone voice)… “Here’s playback.” Both engineers have a fantastic set of ears. Both engineers have the resources and technical capabilities to make any commercial sound better than you ever thought possible, but whom would you rather work with?

I’ve been on a set with a director who thought that yelling at everyone might be the best way to optimize productivity. On the other hand, I’ve worked with a director that was so charming and approachable, I overheard the client say… “This hardly feels like work.”

Again, with which person would you rather work?

I think the competitive nature of the creative industry has forced companies and individuals to improve on their people skills, but they seem to have fewer opportunities to put those skills to the test. Far less edit, transfer, graphic, and audio sessions are being supervised these days.

Once more, young creative students aren’t being taught the value of people skills. I hired a freelance artist (fresh out of college) a few months ago, and told him that the clients were on their way to review the project and sit with him while he made changes. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable sitting with the clients. Is there any way I can avoid client interaction?” he asked.

I thought he was going to have a nervous breakdown. I really appreciate the fact that schools are teaching students how to use the latest technology and software, but can’t they take a one-day break from technology and teach them how to have a conversation with potential clients?

Well, I’ll get off of my high horse now. It’s not like the value of people skills is lost on everyone. Several creative shops haven’t seen the level of supervised sessions fall at all. In fact, they’re really busy and have a steady flow of clients in and out daily. I wonder what they’re doing right.

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