January 20, 2021
Let’s begin at the end.
Client A works with an agency and gets great work and results. Goals are accomplished. Kudos roll in. Fists pump. Nice!
Client B works with the same team within the agency, and the work product and results are good — an improvement over the existing approach — but it’s not as great as Client B had hoped.
How does that happen? Great question.
Recently, we sat down with our account executives, designers and writers to talk through the answer. First, we accepted and tabled the assumption that everyone involved had the will to do something wonderfully unique. No one sets out to do the ordinary. Then, we all agreed that the difference between good and great often lies in the strength of the relationship and effectiveness of communications between agency and client.
What follows are seven ideas surrounding relationships and communication that we hope help you get the best out of your agency.
- Think partnership, and try to avoid the V-word. Treat your agency as partners and members of your team. It may sound like semantics, but calling your agency a vendor is counterproductive and almost akin to name-calling. Even worse: treating them like a vendor and telling them what to do. Instead, trust and guide your agency as you would your colleagues. Great agency/client relationships are based on mutual respect for intelligence and expertise. Building the spirit of partnership at the start of the project is critical. When both “sides” pull together, they become jointly vested in the best outcome and begin to gel as one team.
- Share as much information as you can and communicate goals clearly. Your agency or outside creative partner can do a better job if they understand your business completely. Tell them the good, the bad and the ugly. Immerse them in your world. If you have must-dos and no-nos, state them clearly early on. If you have made assumptions about the creative or other elements of the project, air them, and probe your agency for their own assumptions. Agree to what’s being delivered and why. The more everyone understands in advance, the more prepared everyone is to deliver on expectations.
- Provide adequate time for creative development, but keep your agency slightly winded. The creative process is not easy or fast. In fact, it is sensitive and fragile. Rushing often leads to mistakes and oversights. Talk openly with your partner at the start of the engagement about the amount of time needed to go from discovery to concept presentation. Respect time (and budget) estimates. Come to a mutual agreement in advance about presentation targets, as they tend to drive to-do lists and attention within agencies. Important note: Never allow too much time for concept development. Too much time can be as much of a risk as too little.
- Involve all key decision-makers from the beginning, but don’t let the need for consensus slow you down or fail you. Great creative dies when it gets walked down the hall. Compromises water down great ideas. Yes, committees are an important part of the process — they facilitate buy-in, neutralize naysayers and boost the enthusiasm of the already committed. But remember, great creative is not a democratic process. Great creative is a product of smart leadership and bold, timely decision-making (which, by the way, often leads to on-time and under-budget creative projects).
- Do not sit on decisions for weeks or months on end. Your agency is full of business people, too. They’ll understand that business realities sometimes call for projects to be on a slower burn. But note that long intervals can often amount to project restarts. Momentum is a precious thing. Once a creative project is on life support, it inevitably costs more, loses its energy and becomes dated.
- Provide constructive criticism. Explain what works and why. The least productive thing you can tell your agency is “I don’t like it.” Go deeper with your feedback. One client of note has a particularly effective technique. In this example, they were responding to initial web design concepts. They organized their thoughts into what was working and why, and what was not working and why not. When it’s not about like versus dislike, egos don’t get bruised, and creative problem-solving juices are engaged.
- Be honest, like a good friend. Agencies understand that sometimes you won’t be happy with your creative, team members, process and/or service. It’s important for you to be candid and direct about dissatisfaction. Treat your agency like a friend; be straight with them, but even-toned, if possible. And don’t wait for your partner to ask. Conversely, when you’re happy, please be sure to say so. Even the most accomplished performers warm to positive reinforcement, and hope to hear what Sally Fields said when accepting the Oscar all those years ago: “You like me; you really, really like me!”
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