Over the past year here at Union (formerly Studiobanks) we’ve been extremely fortunate to continue our growth by winning tons of new projects and bringing on new clients. With every new project (and even with our existing retainer projects), we put in a tremendous amount of work not just in delivering a quality end product, but building and fostering client relationships and managing expectations.
Throughout the course of my career I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with some amazing clients to create successful creative work. I’ve also worked on some not-so great projects that were ultimately failures. I’ve found that successful projects generally have several characteristics in common and that those same factors were missing from the failed projects. I continue to feel more and more strongly that in order to produce quality, successful work most of these elements (if not all) should be present.
Trust & Partnership
This is probably the biggest hurdle for new client relationships. Any new business relationship is going to be a little rocky at first as you both getting used to working with each other. The best clients I’ve worked with--the ones whose projects are consistently successful--recognize that this process is a two-way street. These clients come to the table knowing that they hired the agency for their expertise and treating them as a subordinate would be doing a disservice both to the client’s business and the final product. Likewise agencies have to trust the client, to recognize that ultimately their client knows their own business, and the creative should support and nourish that, not detract from it. It’s finding that balance that makes the project successful.
From an agency perspective, I think it’s important to work with clients who we believe in. Whether it’s an innovative new product, a solid business model or shared ethics, there has to be something that gets the agency excited about working with that client. Milton Glaser (famous designer who did the iconic I Love NY logo for all you non-nerds) once said that “The only way that you can accomplish anything is by a sense of affection, by having a client like and trust you, and vice versa. Otherwise you beat your way up hill each time. You have to respect your client, your client has to respect you.” I used to dismiss this as pretentious designer talk, but over the years it rings truer and truer to me. Ultimately I feel that clients have to share the same passion for their work as we do. If you can’t find that common ground, the shared trust and sense of partnership, you’re already starting at a disadvantage and it shows in the end product.
Clearly Defined Objectives
The best work is created to solve a specific problem. Whether it’s increasing sales, generating leads or promoting a new offering, there has to be a clearly defined problem that needs to be solved. If there’s no problem, then how can there be a solution? Often clients get excited about a new digital trend--an app or some new functionality--that is suddenly the HOT. NEW. THING. But when we drill down to the reasoning behind integrating this functionality or building the app, we find out there isn’t any. It’s just an attempt to keep up with the Jones’, but without giving any thought to why the company even wants to and how it will benefit the company if it does. Agencies are just setting themselves up for failure by taking on projects of this nature. Not only will the creative process be doomed from the start, but the results won’t be measurable in any way, and the project will ultimately be viewed as a failure. Simply put, ask yourself “What am I trying to say, and who am I trying to say it to?”
Solid Concept and Execution
Once you’ve achieved a level of trust and clearly defined your goals, then you can actually get down to creating an awesome end product. Coming up with solid creative is ultimately the responsibility of the agency but, if we’re looking at this process as a collaborative partnership (which it is), there’s a lot clients can and should contribute to the process. On successful projects, clients tend to not only recognize great ideas, but also an agency’s expertise when it comes to concepts that are unfamiliar or a little bit scary. These creative concepts are the ones that get remembered. Think of Apple’s classic 1984 commercial. Apple almost decided to kill the creative before it even aired. Why? Because it was scary. It was unlike anything on TV at the time. When you trust your agency and yourself, you set the stage for groundbreaking work.
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Work that’s safe and boring has its place, it’s just not with a creative agency. Agencies do their clients a disservice by showing them work that’s easy and safe and doesn’t evoke a reaction or encourage people to think. One of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever had to do as a creative was modify a concept (after fighting back for months and months) to fall more in line with something the client had already seen in their market. This happened because the client was new and didn’t trust our concept. Ultimately the end product was deemed “safe” and “ok” but didn’t accomplish the goals that we had set.
Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule and great work can happen when you’re missing these elements, but it’s increasingly rare in our industry. Anyone can churn out work that’s generic and expected, but clients come to agencies to create something new and groundbreaking. If your agency is continually producing and selling you on safe, been-there-done-that type of work, fire them immediately. You’re wasting your money. Let’s all strive to produce great work.