The art of client relationships by Rob Longworth

The art of client relationships

By Rob Longworth

The c-word. It can be one of the greatest challenges that creative graduates face. We’re talking, of course, about clients…

After three or so years of blissful creative independence during your studies, working to a professional brief can be quite a shock. So, at this year’s D&AD New Blood Festival, we hosted a workshop to share what we’ve learned from over 10 years of client collaboration.

Better still, we invited three of our world-class clients - BAFTA, Facebook and Ministry of Sound - to share their advice on a great working relationship and get the students to put these top 10 tips into practice.

1. Keep your promises

Over-promising and under-delivering is a surefire way to a dissatisfied client. Don’t just promise what you think your client wants to hear when you’re planning what you can achieve within a certain timeframe. A later delivery date by pre-arrangement is always better than a last-minute push-back.

2. Communicate with clarity…

Remember that your client may not be from a creative background and therefore not accustomed to the design language you’re used to speaking. Re-read your presentations and deliverables and ask whether they clearly convey all the details that you want them to.

3. …but don’t drown them in details

Don’t forget that clients are busy people! Keep communications concise and to the point. Bullet points and subheadings can really help break down the information, especially in presentation decks and emailed notes.

4. Listen for the clues

Try to meet face-to-face with your client. Why? It gives you the chance to listen. Your client’s choice of words, statements, mantras - even the intonation in their voices - can all be subtle clues that help you truly understand their problem and design the perfect solution.

5. Be ready for questions

Your client will often have in-depth questions on your presented work. It can be helpful to scan through your slides and try to preempt these. You can add these extra clarifications as supplementary notes or keep them in your back pocket for when the need arises.

6. Back it up or back down

You may disagree with some of your client’s priorities. But don’t forget their innate knowledge of their own brand. Remind yourself of the project’s goals – and if pushing back against the client really does make sense, be ready to make a clearly reasoned argument for your approach.

7. The brief is your Bible

It can be easy to lose track of complex goals and parameters. Whenever that happens, go back to the brief. From meeting brand guidelines to covering project objectives, just make sure to that your work is hitting the criteria you agreed at the beginning.

8. One size never fits all

Creatives all like to work differently – and clients are no different. Some prefer formal in-person meetings, others prefer PDF presentations sent over email. Some can respond to rough WIPs, others may need to see a more polished result. Figure out a collaboration that works for you both.

9. Feedback isn’t failure

A ‘no’ from a client shouldn’t be a dead end. Sure, it’s a little galling when a piece of work you believe in is turned down. But use the opportunity to glean as many learnings about your client’s needs as you can - then go back to the drawing board. Visual communication is a highly subjective thing and it often takes a little time to clarify tastes, preferences and thinking on a project.

10. Trust is a must!

Truth be told, all good clients and agencies know there’s only one real secret to a great creative relationship: trust. A good client will put their faith in you to deliver a solution. A good creative will trust the client to give them the direction to do so.