Rediscover The Basics Node Dealing With Helicopter Clients

Dealing With Helicopter Clients

February 2, 2015

Helicopters can hover, so can helicopter clients. Learn how to deal with micro managing clients in your next grading session.

Business & Creative Strategies For Micro-Managing Clients

Over the years I’ve been fortunate (and lucky) to have some really great clients.

Not only have these clients been loyal, but the creative opportunities and the quality of the projects I’m able to work on have been exceptional.

I’ve always felt that the relationships I have with clients are in the general sense top notch – the client trusts me and my company and I trust my clients.

However, this week I had an experience with a new client that had me wondering if I’m destined to have more client experiences like this new one.

What was the problem?

Here are a few good descriptions:

  • Micro-manager
  • Second guessing
  • Obsessive
  • Abusive
  • Threatening
  • Smothering

Getting a good idea of this type of client?

Like I said, I know difficult clients are out there and while I’ve been extremely, lucky it’s not like I’ve been totally immune to the hard to deal with client but this week this client took it to a new level in my 17 years of grading!

In this Insight, I primarily want to help you identify this type of client but also give you a few ways to handle situations with Helicopter Clients.  As always, I’m eager to hear about how you would handle similar types of clients. Please feel free to use the comments at the end of this article.


My awesome wife is always there to listen at the end of a hard day or a hard week.

When it comes to difficult clients she knows exactly what that means in the postproduction industry – she worked as a client services lead for a number of years in a very large, well known post facility in the DC area.

While one could make the argument she was smart enough to get out of post, these days she still works with clients in her role in a fund raising and development department for a prestigious school.

So, when I sat down at the dinner table this week to describe the experiences I was having with this new client she nodded a few times and then said.

“I see this type of person all the time. We call them the helicopter client”.

A bit confused she went on to tell me why helicopter was a good fit for a overwhelming, micro-managing client.

“What’s one big difference between a plane and a helicopter?  A helicopter can hover, right?”

Ahh!  I quickly started to understand and I think this is a perfect, and quite literal way of describing this type of client.

Characteristics Of A Helicopter Client

I listed some descriptors of the type of client I was dealing and that we’ll now call – the Helicopter client.

By definition the Helicopter Client hovers!

This hovering takes on many forms, but at its root a Helicopter Client doesn’t trust you and doesn’t trust your process.

The Helicopter Client is so anxious about a project and how it should be finished that they feel a compulsive need to manage in a very direct way, every step of that project. Including things like color grading that they’re coming to you for in the first place!

Because they are micro-managers and anxious, they can also project this on you, your team and the whole project.

Here are several examples:

  • Constant communication – even if you’ve told a Helicopter Client when they’ll get something or when the next time you’ll communicate they’ll call, email or show up just to “check in” and do so ALL the time.  The Helicopter Client will often ignore time of day, other commitments you may have or other usual business protocols.
  • Doubt – The Helicopter Client will doubt nearly every part of the process – from how you ask them to prepare a project, to atheistic decisions you make while grading to even doubting and expressing that doubt to you about why they hired you in the first place!
  • Anger – When a Helicopter Client starts to become so anxious they can’t even contain that anxiety they usually lash out.  From simply raising their voice to screaming obscenities and being abusive to you and staff anger is a clear sign that you’re dealing with a client not in control.

Of course people are different and the Helicopter Client will manifest him/herself in different ways but these types of clients in general are difficult, smothering and irritating to the flow both logistically and creatively for any given project.

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