When businesses hire external creative professionals, both parties head into the new project with high hopes to develop a harmonious, collaborative relationship that turns out award-worthy results. But the unfortunate truth is, it doesn’t always work out. Lack of communication or creative compatibility has caused many a promising project to whither on the vine. Certainly, it’s a two-way street, and both parties are responsible for pulling their weight along an agreed-upon path. With that said, here are five things client companies can do to put their creative partners in a better position to succeed:
1. Make sure it’s a good fit. Before signing a contract, conduct enough due diligence to feel comfortable that the creative firm/agency you’re considering is a match for your corporate identity and personal style of working. Ask about prior projects with similar clients. Review their portfolio samples. Do you get warm and fuzzy feelings right away, or is it more like a square peg / round hole situation? If things aren’t clicking, it might be best for everyone to move on.
2. Open up. Some clients are reluctant to share too much information with their external creative partners. Perhaps they’re afraid of overloading us, or they’re hesitant to divulge what could be considered sensitive company information. But to do our job well, we creatives need to know the backstory behind the project and how our work will serve the bigger-picture business strategy. We need to get our hands on the company’s creative assets (logos, color palettes, style guides, etc.), and maybe even access the corporate intranet for further research. Without a deep understanding of the who/what/when/where/why, our creative hands are tied, and the results will reflect that. If you’re concerned about confidentiality, ask your legal department to draw up a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for your creative firm to sign – it’s a common practice.
3. Keep it simple: While it is our job is to get to know your business, the more you (the client) can help us understand it, the better we can help you capture it in amazing conceptual form. For example, we may have trouble drawing creative inspiration from a highly technical white paper about electrical engineering. So if there’s someone on your team who’s great at translating left-brained minutiae to right-brained creatives, we’d love to talk to that person.
4. Stay on track: Many creative projects are time-sensitive, tied to some important event or moment in the company’s transition. Releasing a finished product at just the right time (i.e. striking while the iron’s hot) requires setting a schedule for deliverables, holding regular progress meetings, managing review cycles and providing timely feedback. When the creative team is left in the dark for weeks, and then rushed to make major changes at the last-minute, the work suffers.
5. Control the review process: At large companies, especially, it’s completely understandable that there’s a chain of command to follow. And the more visible and important the project, the more people want to weigh in. At the same time, it’s far too easy for “collaboration” to turn into a free-for-all of personal preferences and unnecessary revisions that muddy the message of the creative’s work, soften its impact, or dull its much-intended edge. In other words, too many cooks spoil the soup. As the client, you can improve the outcome by standing your ground. Presumably, you hired your creative firm because you believe they are experts at their craft. So don’t let one offhand, uninformed comment from an executive overturn months of research, brainstorming and creative struggle.
Keeping these tips in mind will build a positive relationship with your creative vendors and, in a perfect world, develop into a mutually beneficial partnership that produces outstanding results, project after project, year after year.