Working with Community Clients
Are you assigning a media project where community groups will be acting as clients for creative teams made up of your students? If you’ll be working with local organizations – like after school programs, community theaters, animal rescue shelters, environmental action centers, etc – these helpful tips and pointers will ensure that both your educational goals your your clients’ organizational needs are met.
Finding the Right Clients
As with anything media-related, selecting clients takes more time than you would think. If you are planning for a project in the Fall semester, begin reaching out to potential clients at the end of the preceding Spring term so that you can get to know more about them – and they can get to know more about your project and students – over the Summer.
Get the Word Out
You want to have lots of clients to choose from so that you can ensure the best possible interactions for both your students and the groups you work with in the course of the project. Use local newspapers, Craigslist ads, your own networks and other available resources to both scout for help wanted requests – and to advertise what you have to offer.
Explain Your Project
Give your clients a clear sense of what you want your students to take away from this assignment up front. Work with your local Media Commons consultant and Instructional Designer to lay out the project description, timeline and deliverables so that you can present it to potential clients once you have narrowed down the pool.
Set a Value
Everyone wants a free video or audio artifact that they can use to promote their organization. Make sure clients understand that this project is “free” but really constitutes a donation of your time, your students’ work and University resources in the form of staff training and support, production equipment and the like.
Get It in Writing
Once you have come to an understanding about what the students will do for the community group and when each step of the process will be completed – as well as who the students will be working with in each organization – get the entire agreement in writing. Draw up a contract that details the entire project and get it signed for future reference.
Understand Client Needs
Find out what your client needs by asking for their ideal end product and what they want to do with it. Work backwards from that to determine if its required steps will map onto the course assignment you’ve drawn up. You may need to be a bit flexible with your plans but don’t feel bad about holding your ground on important points.
Determine who you and your students will be working with on this projects from the community group’s end. Make sure that this person is a senior level employee in the organization and has a vested interest in seeing the project through to completion. If the project gets delegated to junior staff, definitely take steps swiftly to intervene.
Managing Clients – and Expectations
Check in with your students to find out how their interactions with clients are going. Using storyboards, rough draft critiques and other milestones can be a good way to ensure student work is progressing – and that clients are holding up their end of the bargain. Similarly, touching base with each community group along the way can help avoid problems.
Watch for Creep
Client wishes sometimes cause projects to grow unwieldy quickly. Keeping tabs on your students and their community groups is a good way to check for “wouldn’t it be nice if…” requests that might be weighing down the original, agreed upon final deliverable. It’s important to help your students balance making clients happy with ensuring realizable results.
This is one of the hardest calls to make when dealing with a community group in the classroom setting – but sometimes crucial for making the educational experience a strong one for your students. A lot of client problems can be resolved by staying on top of expectations and establishing consistent communications with a point of contact from the beginning. That said, there are some fire-able offenses to be aware of:
- Delegating the project to junior staff or part-time volunteers.
- Changing crucial dates in the agreed upon schedule so that wrapping up by the end of term becomes unrealistic.
- Not responding to requests for interviews, on-site filming or other media-production needs.
- Switching the project to cover gaps with in-house audio/visual support.
The bottom line is to go with your gut. If you are getting the sense that interactions between your students and their clients are not matching up with expectations, get in touch immediately and take steps to move in another direction as soon as possible, if necessary.
Having a Plan B
When working with real world clients, lots of unexpected challenges can come up along the way. Starting early with a solid plan and suitable clients is the best way to create room for flexibility but it’s also a very good idea to have a Plan B in your back pocket in case you need to switch tracks in the middle of your course assignment. Having a back up client or secondary project can make the transition go smoothly for your students – and ensure they have a productive learning experience.