Sep 17, 2019

Want The Best Creative From Your Agency? Be A Better Client.

By: Susan Curhan


We’re surrounded by beautiful creative, created by talented agencies, so it’s not surprising that many marketers believe it’s easy for agencies to create great work. Just hire an agency, tell them a bit about your brand, tell them what you want, sit back, and wait for the magic. 

If that’s your process, you’ve likely been disappointed in the result. You may have blamed, or even fired, your agency.  

It’s certainly possible the agency wasn’t the right choice, or their work wasn’t very good.  But, it’s more likely that you’re getting bad creative because you’re a bad client.

It’s Probably You, It’s Not Likely Them

Clients Get the Creative They Deserve.  — David Ogilvy

If you believed that being a good client would get you better creative work, would you invest the effort to be a good client?

Great creative from an agency (or an internal creative team) is only possible when you know what it takes to be a good client. It takes skill and a great relationship.

Relationships with Your Agency Matter

Leading a successful partnership with your agency is one of the most challenging aspects of a marketing leadership role. Too many marketers believe that once they hire a creative partner, their work is (mostly) done. 

Really it’s just started. You might be an expert in a technical aspect of marketing and you also (should) know your business better, but that’s not enough to make you an expert at leading and managing a complex creative process.

What Kind of Client Do You Want to Be?

Great clients may be good at knowing what great creative looks like, but they are always great partners to their agency. How do you treat your agency? As a trusted business partner? Or as one of many suppliers supporting your business? If you recognize you have room to improve, here are three places to focus.

Three Ways You Can Be a Better Client

  1. Planning: Engage your agency from the first point of struggle to the last moment of success. At each step, have the agency at the table with a strong voice to collaborate. 
  2. Creative Strategy: Build a great creative strategy by asking and answering these six questions together:
    1. Who do we want to sell to? (Target)
    2. What are we selling? (Benefit)
    3. Why should they believe us? (Reasons to Believe)
    4. What do we want the creative to do for the brand? (Brand Strategy)
    5. What do want people to think, feel, or do? (Desired Response)
    6. What’s the long-range feeling the brand evokes? (Brand DNA)
  3. The Creative Brief: Answer the creative strategy questions and let the agency write the brief. And the brief should be brief. In the beginning, you should debate every word—it’s a great way to gain alignment and learn how you each think. 

Develop your target using demographics, psychographics, and behaviors: the more specific, the better. Avoid mandatories where possible, because they overly constrain the creative process. (Highly regulated industries are the exception.)

Finally, do not dictate a creative style (e.g., no humor). If you’ve hired the right creative team for your brand, let them do their work. And make sure you hire the right creative team for your brand! 22-year-old copywriters and designers are not likely to understand a brand that targets 70-year-old men.

    1. Good briefs should have: ONE objective. ONE target tightly defined. ONE main benefit. TWO main reasons to believe the benefit.
    2. Invest time with the  creative team to discuss the brief, answer any questions they have, and clarify expectations. Show them you’re a client worth working hard for.

Great creative is a two-way street.  Be a good collaborator and you’ll get better creative.

Part 2: Great Creative Is Your Responsibility. Really

Part 3: The Creative Review


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