by Owen Williams
Time and again we inherit clients from soured relationships, broken promises and unsatisfied expectations. There’s been a parting of the ways, with both parties screaming foul and blaming the other for the breakdown of the relationship.
I was at an agency event last week and the MD of another agency told me that all client relationships were all doomed to fail in the end, for one reason or another and that the client/supplier relationship has a definite shelf life.
This is very downbeat thinking and there is no reason why the relationship between client and agency should be doomed to fail. But what makes a successful relationship and how can it be maintained? Well here are a few things that will certainly help.
Setting clear goals and establishing expectations on both sides is critical and should be in place from the outset. Both the client and agency should be committed to ensuring that the brief is up to scratch and that the responsibilities for both parties are clearly communicated. Everyone should know what he or she needs to do, how they are doing it and when they need to do it by.
A good agency is a proactive one. Try to anticipate any problems or challenges that the project may encounter, in the short and long term. Some of the best projects we have worked on have seen the whole direction of the design change because someone has come to the table with a new idea and the management team has had the flexibility to run with that idea.
But clients can be proactive too. Being organised with content and materials for the project will make everyone’s life easier and if you see some holes in the brief, then speak up. There is no point in waiting for a storm to hit when it can be avoided.
Transparency and good communication
Miscommunication is one of the single biggest causes of relationship breakdown. A good relationship requires mutual respect and two-way communication so that everyone feels included, valued and informed. It’s amazing how quickly those clearly defined deliverables can become lost in translation when the line of communication becomes disjointed and overcrowded. Keep it simple and make sure that a consistent point of contact is available for both parties. Regular progress updates will keep everyone ‘in the loop’ and ‘up to speed’ with what is going on and who is responsible for what.
Good communication will facilitate clear expectations and build trust between the companies.
Let us be a partner, not a supplier
The more you as a client can let us, the agency, ‘in’, the better. An effective partnership needs to be exactly that – a mutually beneficial arrangement with a shared goal and sense of shared success. Clients will always get much more value from an agency when they adopt this approach. The client/supplier model restricts the ability of the agency to produce creative solutions that have your business objectives at heart. The deeper an agency’s understanding of the client’s business, the more value that it can bring to the project.
Adopting a peer-to-peer approach will promote a longer lasting relationship and a culture of shared success. As a client, let the agency become a source of insight and strategy, as well as a vehicle for creative output.
When you approach a project or ongoing campaign with a partnership mentality, both parties feel valued. This inspires trust, loyalty and ultimately retention.
The design process is not always a linear journey, there are twists and turns, discoveries and dead-ends, inspiration and procrastination.
There is a reason why you hired an agency. Let them do their job, so you can get on with yours.
A successful relationship is built on mutual respect for the skills and expertise of each party. The client is an expert in their industry and can bring a great deal of value through experience and insight that can inform the creative process and fuel marketing campaigns. A good agency will value input from the client and harness their knowledge to benefit any given project.
However, be mindful of blurring the lines of responsibility. Are you one of those clients that come across as a frustrated designer? Why are you spending time coming up with endless sketches of logos and website page layouts? Let the agency take charge of the creative process and direct you. They are experts in their field, just as you are in yours. As a client you need to put your faith in an agency, not just your money.
Make room for creativity
Every project needs a clear brief that directs the creative process and establishes criteria for successful deployment. But a good brief will not stifle the creativity of an agency.
If you want to get the best out of an agency then you, the client, need to give them room to be creative and come up with innovative ideas. Creativity is the lifeblood of any design or marketing campaign and an overbearing brief will restrict the flow of blood and things will stop working as effectively as they might. Be realistic when setting the constraints.
The design process is not always a linear journey, there are twists and turns, discoveries and dead-ends, inspiration and procrastination. A good brief, and relationship, will always show appreciation of this.
Take your egos out of the equation
Easier said than done it’s true. The client is looking after the interests of the business they have worked so hard for and designers are not exactly an ego-free bunch either! However, a successful partnership requires compromise and objectivity, with the end goal and user as the central concern. As Ginsberg, Faulkner and countless others have said, you need to ‘kill your darlings’ for the greater good.
So what does this actually mean? Well it’s all about understanding that the successful completion of a project may require you to detach yourself from your own perspective and put yourself in the position of the client, the designer and, most importantly, the consumer. A good campaign will always have the needs of the end user at heart, not those of the client or agency.