What Does Being A Gatekeeper Look Like Today?

by seanlow on January 25, 2018

Time was when if you wanted to know who to hire there were those who controlled everything and were the trusted resource for everyone associated with the project. Venue to wedding planner to wedding vendors.  Architect or contractor to designer to trades (or shelter magazine to designer to trades). The whole point was a trusted resource became the authority on all things related to the project whether the expertise to refer was there or not.  Gatekeepers controlled the information flow and who was “allowed in” or not.

Sometimes gatekeepers used their status to take commissions/referral fees, others simply controlled the product and pricing of items since they controlled the client.

Life was easy though.  Become the gatekeeper or woo the gatekeeper.  Those were really the only two roles that mattered for most creative businesses and mostly there was no crossover.  If you were a high-end painter, very unlikely the end client would ever come to you directly, let alone know who you were. Set hierarchy made for easy decisions as to what to do to sustain being a gatekeeper (i.e., focus on PR, marketing, and advertising like crazy) or nurturing your gatekeeper (i.e., do whatever you could to support the vision and reputation of the gatekeeper without worrying about the end consumer).

Fast forward to today. Sure, you can find the old guard gatekeeper relationships still breathing and you and your creative business can still stay as the gatekeeper or nurturer of a gatekeeper.  However, the lines have, in fact, blurred to the point of evaporation.  The gatekeeper is now relational to the most trusted and cared about element of any project. If a client is a total foodie, perhaps the caterer becomes the gatekeeper for an event.  If the custom cabinet maker is the trusted artisan, she will drive the project.  And for those of you who think this is absurd — the makers market is sweeping interior design today and will soon be affecting every other related industry — from events to jewelry. These craftspeople will control many relationships for a creative project if they have not already.

Everyone has access to the client – social media makes it so. Everyone can tell their story and even if the gatekeeper wants you, your art and your creative business for the project, you have to do better than be the one the gatekeeper chose.  You actually have to be in the business of validating the gatekeepers choice BEFORE you deliver your art. I suppose there was a flavor of this before all things internet, but today it is a prerequisite.  Being the business that works with the gatekeeper all the time is not near good enough today.

So what does it all mean? You have to know your role and you have to know how to play the role you are given.  Sometimes you are the star and sometimes the supporting actress. Nobody wants the team player if you are supposed to be the star and vice-versa.  To be the star you have to know why you are recommending the support you are recommending far more than the how and the what. Your business has to be reflection of the certainty of that why and unyielding in the effort to provide cumulative amazing work based on the why.  If you are the supporting actress, it does not mean you are subservient or are to supplicate your vision to the gatekeeper’s. Quite the contrary.  You are there to deepen and support the vision of the gatekeeper’s creative business with your own.  Please do not have a boring business model that makes it very hard on the gatekeeper to say why they chose you other than you will come through in the end. You can and, indeed, have to do better.

Here is the last thought. Hubris is a bitch and ego has no place here.  Today the star, tomorrow the supporting actress.  All roles invaluable and inevitable.  Sure, provincialism is still here, but it is dying an ever accelerating death. Client access, direct and powerful communication of ideas and decisions, value points far beyond price and product, these are notions that are here to stay.  Notions, by the way, that were unheard of fifteen years ago.

I have watched far too many for far too long believe the world of gatekeeper would never change.  And therefore they never adapted to the other role they might have to play to remain relevant to the theater of a creative project. These are the creative businesses that are already in the rear view mirror. Do not be one of them.  Learn to play the role you are given.  Authentic value is the constant, its delivery the variable.

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