Why collaboration is key to creative success

Clients get the advertising they deserve. That’s an industry adage that dates back to the last century. It’s rarely repeated in the presence of clients and only ever when things are going well. On one level, however, it’s true.

Clients that strangle the creative process through the need for control, or those who rely on focus groups to ‘sense check’ their advertising concepts, will usually wind up with blancmange.

Here’s the rub though. I’ll bet that, if asked, the client would say they are equally committed to creative excellence. It’s just that their view of excellence differs from that of their agency. And that’s sad. Because it means the objectivity and freshness the agency was hired to bring to the client is lost along with the trust necessary for a great partnership.

So what does it look like when both client and agency are as one in their drive to be truly creatively excellent?

There are four prerequisites to a highly creative client/agency partnership:

  1. A shared commitment – Have the conversation early about why cut-through ideas are important. How they’ll drive greater visibility. How they’ll help add leverage to the client’s investment in share of voice. Finding common ground on the objective reasons to strive for creative excellence while, at the same time, understanding that there may be some boundaries pushed along the way is a great way to start. It will align expectations and bring you into philosophical agreement before you even begin to get creative.
  2. Agreement on purpose – Now you’re aligned on the ambitions for the campaign, it’s time to agree on what you’re going to be creative about. To achieve this, there’s no substitute for knowing what your client is really selling Find out what’s real (now or potentially) about the relationship between the client and its customers. When it comes to distilling something really fresh about your client, there’s simply no substitute for the kind of understanding that only comes through a sense of curiosity and a willingness to ask questions… and more questions. We find some of our most valuable conversations with out clients take place through this process of discovery.
  3. Establish an agreed creative ‘true north’ – Once you begin the creative process, establish and agree on the aperture in which your creative thinking is going to be framed. Ensure you understand how the CMO feels their brand’s DNA needs to be expressed at both a practical and emotional (often very personal) level. Know the areas where you can take risks and those where you can’t. This is a time where we engage our client deeply in our embryonic creative thinking. We push and pull with ideas and themes, well before there’s any possibility of slipping into creative-by-committee.

By now, you’ll have established a pretty clear framework on which your creative work can be developed. All without a single storyboard or layout being shared. Importantly, a sense of trust and collaboration is beginning to develop between you and your client, ensuring they know you’re committed to their success (as well as your own) and that you’re a reasonable human being. All of which has the potential to make the next step a joyous one:

  1. Play by the agreed rules – Set your creative team free within the tightly defined framework of ‘rules’ that you’ve agreed on. ‘Rules?’ I hear you complain! Yes. Rules. A set of rules is what defines a game. They bring tension to competition and make things fun. Without rules, a game of football would simply be war. A game of poker wouldn’t be a game. A workplace wouldn’t exist. Nor would anything else of value. In fact, the tighter the rules, the more sweetly the creative juices tend to flow. Best of all, the game you’re playing has your client on the same side, playing by the same rules.

There you have it. Four steps to highly effective creative collaboration that will help you achieve the creative standards you aspire to while bringing your client with you. These are the four steps that underpin our creative methodology at DPR&Co – a way of collaborating that we’ve proven to be of enormous value.

There will undoubtedly be some who violently disagree with this approach –subscribers to a ‘black box’ technique complete with big ‘reveals’. If the client hates the work, they’re just incapable of comprehending it. It’s an approach that can, on occasions, deliver a stunning result. But most of the best ideas wind up in the bin through lack of buy-in and ownership.

So, if you’re looking for the kind of partnership where your client trusts you enough to invest in a big idea, do the work. It’s four steps that could make life much more fulfilling. For you and your client.

Phil Huzzard, Agency Principal, DPR&Co