As a client, it’s often difficult to know how much freedom to grant your agency.
Leaving agencies to their own devices can result in some unexpected results further down the line. Sticking your oar in too much can frustrate relationships and lead to mixed signals and, ultimately, a confused result.
So, how do you go about getting the best out of a creative agency if you’re a client?
At the Festival of Marketing 2019, Gabriela Lungu, founder of WINGS Creative Leadership Lab shared her tips and tricks. Gabriela has spent the last two years travelling all over the globe advising creative leaders and teams how to boost both their internal and agency-client relationships and, by extension, assisting in their creative transformation.
Here’s what she had to say.
1. Set smart objectives
One of the biggest issues when it comes to the role of creative teams within the wider business function is that creativity is not easily measurable. Unlike many other departments (such as sales), there are few, if any, numeric targets that can be measured and presented on a spreadsheet to track improvement over time.
To combat this, and help improve your team’s oversight, Lungu advises leaders “set smart creative objectives for you, your teams and your agencies”. These need to be easily quantifiable so that direct comparisons can be made against results from last year or the previous project.
Begin with small, easily attainable measurements. For example, your creative team could execute a survey gauging how internal stakeholders perceive the overall creativity of the company. Once internal perspectives have been determined, you can expand your approach to agencies and other external parties.
The results of this research can then be used to set clear, smart objectives for a project or the general creative development of everyone involved. Perhaps briefings need to be clearer, or maybe the client is too careful when evaluating final work, thereby killing any creative edge, Lungu posits.
By clearly outlining what they want from their agency, clients ensure everybody becomes accountable and teams can reduce the risk of miscommunication along the way.
2. Invest in creativity and innovation
In order to drive highly creative and disruptive content, some budget needs to be allocated to push ideas further with the help of the agency. “Test a crazy little idea if you feel it has potential,” Lungu emphasises, even if it doesn’t work out in the end. Often, some of the best creative work is produced when collaborative risks are taken while developing content.
Equally, allow yourself to fail, documenting slip-ups that occurred so that the creative process becomes more watertight with experience. Developing case studies can be a great way of documenting a project from start to finish, giving you the ability to present how the work was carried out and to encourage improved innovation and teamwork in any future projects.
3. Keep yourselves up-to-date
Clients must also ensure there’s budget available to train their teams in order to become conversant with the latest creative ideas, trends and information. “It’s so important to know what’s out there so we can compare ourselves to what’s relevant”, Lungu explains, as only then will you have a better chance of producing work that is truly visionary and award-worthy.
She also suggests contracting creative partners and agencies to present this information to you after attending awards, festivals and similar networking events. Inspiration sessions before beginning big projects can be similarly helpful, just ask your agency to present their most successful past projects to see what best practice looks like, and to get the creative juices flowing.
In short, Lungu concludes, “use your agencies better – involve them more”.
4. Be creative process custodians
Whilst you should try to take creative risks where possible, a solid development process should be in place and reiterated to any teams and agencies involved.
In an ideal world, creatives would be left to conjure inspiration for their work in their own time and in their own environment. However, this is not feasible in a professional setting where creativity is expected on demand and work is required within a tight deadline. A clear, planned approach can ensure that ideas can flourish whilst also meeting the requirements of the wider business. After all, “if you stick to the process, you can predict results better”, says Lungu.
Nevertheless, your approach mustn’t enable you to predict the finished result too accurately, she notes. By definition a creative idea is not ‘what you expected’. If it doesn’t surprise you, it might not be innovative enough.
Crucially, don’t ask to see the finished work before it is ready unless you can proactively help develop it. Getting involved too much in your agency’s activities can backfire and end up weakening ideas to the point where the result is comparatively unrecognisable to the original brief. “It’s like going into a kitchen in the process of making a cake. If you cannot deal with the mess, don’t go into the kitchen”, Lungu stresses.
5. Be Collaborative (but not overbearing)
Lungu likens the agency-client relationship to performing the tango. The client moves around the consumer (the dance floor), while the agency moves around the client (the lead dancer). None of these elements can function without the others.
Ultimately, the client is in control of the brief and the direction in which it is taken. The important thing is to “make sure you know where you’re going, otherwise how can [agencies] know?”, she remarks.
In order to collaborate successfully, clients need to strike the right balance between supporting their agencies with clear communication and processes, whilst letting them do what they do best (as opposed to over-contributing).
“How creative the work is is completely up to you [the client]”, Lungu concludes.