What makes a good client in a project world?

Gavin McLeod
By Gavin McLeod | 12 October 2020
Gavin McLeod

Gavin McLeod, ECD Ogilvy Sydney

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the industry is changing off the back of the disruption caused by COVID-19. The changes are clearly going to be significant and none more so than in the relationship between creative and client.

It’s always been true that at the heart of great work, you’ll find a great client. Someone with the foresight and courage to back challenging thinking and be a champion for it. Of course, it’s easier to back an idea when there’s trust that’s been built up over time between client and agency.

Unfortunately, as we shift into more project-based engagements post COVID this is a luxury that less of us will enjoy.

I was recently privy to an interesting conversation with a prospective new client that I’m sure echoes a common frustration with the traditional agency model. They were unhappy with their creative agency as they felt that they had a tendency to disappear for weeks and then come back with a TADA presentation convinced that they had solved the brief. The client was immensely frustrated as they wanted to be more involved in the creative process so they could help the agency navigate potential stumbling blocks much earlier.

Certainly, at Ogilvy this desire is something we spend considerable time thinking about as the way in which creative departments work continues to evolve. I still see a role for the traditional team of an Art Director and Copywriter given the right brief. But, there is also a growing need for creatives with more hybrid skills who are able to work in more flexible structures directly with client teams. Within this agile context creatives are the first point of contact and they are expected to have not just creative skills, but also strategic and client facing ones as well. I’m particularly excited about this as it empowers creatives to have deeper relationships with clients as they work more closely with them.

So while effectively collaborating with clients has always been important, in the current environment it has become crucial. Here’s three examples of where it’s worked particularly well, and how it can be applied to our changing industry:

Firstly, I’ve seen better (and more effective) work happen when clients have played a larger role in the creative process much earlier. I’m a big believer in involving them very early on when there are still a lot of thinking on the table. This can be unsettling as things are still in their messy infancy, but the best clients enjoy being exposed to the full range of ideas including the “Oh my god, that would get me fired” ones. It gives them an opportunity to spot something unexpectedly brilliant and then give the team the confidence to pursue it. 

Secondly, by being involved earlier, clients have enough time to give the agency license to explore the most challenging thinking. They also have the opportunity to impart their knowledge of the full range of business priorities, not just the ones in the brief, that the work will need to address. It’s amazing how often the agency only really finds out what these are when an idea is in the final stages of execution. By then they are often extremely difficult to address, and the resultant work is a Frankenstein mess that fails to deliver to anyone’s expectations. 

The last point is the importance of honest and transparent communication in a successful client-agency collaboration. Allowing people to openly share their thoughts, opinions and ideas creates an environment where creativity and collaboration thrives. I’ve found that on project-based engagements the best results have come when the client sees themselves an active member of the

creative team. When they feel like they are a part of the team, they are equally invested in making sure the creative stays true to what made it stand out in the beginning and can help make sure the inevitable hurdles are safely navigated without compromising the work.

It’s a challenging but exciting time to be a creative as the boundaries that define us blur, and even more so for clients. In this economically challenged, and increasingly project-based world, creatives and clients are more a part of the creative process than ever. And it’s clear that being in it together, the joint accountability and combined thinking will result in truly great work. Even in not so great times.

Gavin McLeod, ECD Ogilvy Sydney

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