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So, I just recently closed a website project that pretty much was The Oatmeals' Design Hell, but with content. The client loved the site at the beginning but started getting other people involved and mercilessly bombarding us with their opinions.

We served a carefully thought content strategy (which the client approved) and extremely curated copywriting that took us four months after at least 5 requirement changes (new content, new objectives for the business, changed offerings, new mindfaps, etc.) that required us to rewrite the content about 3 times.

The client never gave timely feedback even though we kept the process open for him and his people to see (content being developed transparently in Google Docs). Near the end of the project he still wanted to make changes but wanted us to finish already (there are not enough words in the world to even try to make sense of this).

So I explained to him the obvious implications of the never-ending requirement changes and advised him to take the time to gather his thoughts with his own team and see the new content introduced as a new content maintenance project.

He happily accepted, but on the day of training/delivery things went very wrong and we have no idea why.

The client didn't even allow the site to be out for a week with the content we developed for him and quickly replaced us with a Joomla savvy intern so that he completely destroy the content with shallow, unstructured, tasteless and plain wordsmithing (and I'm not even being visceral).

Worst insult of all, he revoked our access from his server and the deployed CMS not even having passed 10 minutes of being given his administrator account (we realized the day after that he did it in our own office, the nerve!).

Everybody involved in the team is enraged and insulted. I never want to see this happen again. So, to try to make sense of this situation and avoid it in the future with new clients I have two concrete questions:

  • Is there even an appropriate course of action with a client like this?, or is he just not worth the trouble of analyzing (blindly hoping this never repeats again).
  • In the exercise to try and blame ourselves instead of the client and take this as a lesson of... something, how should we set expectations for new clients about the working terms, process and final product so that they are discouraged from mauling the content to their own contempt once they get the codes to the nukes (access to the CMS)?
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so that they are discouraged from mauling the content to their own contempt

What makes you think you're even in a position to do this?

I'm not sure I see what the issue is, other than that you're not letting go of the project; it's not your site. It sounds like you were contracted to build this in such a way that the client would be able to edit the content, you gave them a login, and then they edited the content. If you don't like what they did to or with the content, that's just too bad. From the limited information you've given, it sounds like you handled things relatively well from a project management perspective, setting up a content plan, getting approvals, and so on.

The client immediately cutting off your access makes it pretty clear they don't want you around anymore. I'd personally say that is by default a fight not worth getting into. They've given you a relatively graceful way to get out, and you should probably take it.

Unless there's something in your contract or statement of work making you responsible for updating things(in which case why'd you give them content access?), you did your job as well as you were allowed to, and now you move on to the next project. If there is some kind of on-going relationship here that you want to maintain, then let things sit for a short time and bring the content up for review in the future, after you can build a case for changing it. But as things stand, if you want to put this in your portfolio and hate the content so much, then present things in such a way that only makes you responsible for the design, assuming you didn't give them access to mess with that, too.

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I mean discouragement in the sense that they understand the content was made (even engineered) with purposes they'd be missing out if tampering with it, also in the sense that they feel encouraged to give it a chance and have confidence in our work. You are right, maybe we shouldn't have sold our work from the CMS/governability perspective if we weren't prepared for the client to maul the content, we however explained that he was supposed to edit other content (blog). I've cut ties with the client permanently (and politely) which, as a side-note, he was my first client when I was a freelancer. –  dukeofgaming Jun 1 '12 at 4:04
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