Communication, or lack thereof, is at the root of many of the world’s most challenging problems. We listen as people talk, but somehow we fail to hear what they’re actually saying. Sometimes we hear what we want to hear; other times we can’t distinguish the real message behind the words. It’s no different in client/agency interactions, particularly where creative is concerned.
What makes perfect sense to some marketers can be a jumble of meaningless jargon to a creative director. So how do you bridge the communication gap to ensure that you clearly understand the problem that needs to be solved by your creative?
Develop a clear shared vocabulary
When your client briefs you, are you both speaking the same language? Always keep in mind that you are coming from different perspectives, so assumptions about the meaning of certain words or phrases can result in a disconnect.
When you identify areas that need more clarity, make sure you push hard to get a clear definition of the request. Sometimes it’s necessary to rearticulate the request in the language your team can act on and get validation from your client. Knowing your client’s business well can help you translate and be a good advocate for the right solution.
Focus and strengthen the goal
Have you heard these statements from your clients? “We need something premium.” “I want to see breakthrough creative.” It’s easy to jump into action, brief the team and take your best shot, but it’s always better to make sure the strategy is sound before you deliver.
Hearing those statements from the client should immediately trigger a “Let’s define exactly what the success criteria is for this project” dialogue. Beware of the client brief that articulates a strategy open to interpretation.
One thing to listen for is a clear and focused strategic goal. “We need this work to reinforce our commitment to quality.” Knowing the key communication goal as opposed to a general aspiration for the work will make for effective, successful creative solutions.
Avoid compromised work
As you’re honing in on a final solution, the client comes back with some small but significant executional additions framed as finishing touches that are muddying the communication and degrading the work. Upon closer examination, they are really pointing toward a significant shift in the strategy.
Before compromised work goes to market, it’s time to step back and look at the work holistically. The client will ultimately thank you for coming through with a solution that delivers clearly on the evolved strategy. One way to do this is when you bring the next round of work back, address their direct feedback. Then provide a new solution that is more in line with the overall strategy. This will open up the conversation to stronger solutions.
Don’t just respond, create solutions
Sometimes clients make their best attempt to brief the right work for the challenge they face, but ultimately fall short. While reviewing the brief, it’s clear to you that the process they’ve outlined or the deliverables specified are not going to achieve their stated goal.
Don’t be afraid to take a step back, recraft the brief and take it back to the client. Approach this tactfully, recognizing the work the client has put into the brief. Frame it as a discussion of what process will lead to the best result. Even if the process involves more work than they originally thought, getting the right result is really what they want, and they’ll value your expertise for helping them get there.
Discuss what needs to be true to get the result the client is seeking, what will help your team do their best work and if there are any implications to scope and cost result from the changes. Ideally, the new process will keep costs close to the original scope, but if it doesn’t, be prepared to explain the value of any additional work.
Expand your relationship
We often focus on the project at hand but do not see the larger client opportunity. Within every conversation is the opportunity to extend your ability to service your client. Brainstorming with them is a great way to identify new workstreams, deliverables or new areas where you can help them. If the ideas lead to work that will benefit the brand, their decision to pursue them will be an easy choice.
Take the time to think about the kind of projects that can bring shared value to you and your client. Often, these are projects that are not on their radar because they’re focused on short-term executional work rather than long-term success.
Communication will always be the biggest challenge in any business, and agency life is no different. Ensuring that you are able to actually hear your clients clearly is crucial. It’s easy to get caught up in the fast-paced flow of day to day work and miss key information or opportunities that arise from client conversation. Take the time to slow down and focus during client interactions, and you’ll be more likely to be viewed as a trusted advisor rather than an executional vendor.