One of the best ways to ensure creative buy-in is leaning into something too many creative directors feel is outside their job description, and that’s client service. Specifically, the relationship building part of working with clients.
Without question, having strong client service skills is as essential to the role of creative director as directing the creative work. Sometimes, even more so.
While there are many reasons the creative agency CD shouldn’t assume managing the client falls solely on your account team’s shoulders, there is one that stands above the rest: trust. Establishing, building, and maintaining a strong relationship with your client contacts builds trust, and trust will always serve the work well.
So, how does the introverted creative director go about doing that? Here are a few suggestions.
Understand and ease your clients’ fears
To be its most memorable, work often needs to nudge the client out of their comfort zone. But, keep in mind, approving work can be stressful for a client. After all, they’re the ones who shoulder ultimate responsibility if your work doesn’t do its job. You can’t blame them for being a bit hesitant to greenlight an integrated campaign, or even a single spot, when hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line. That’s where trust in a creative partner can make a big difference.
Make sure your client knows you understand the stakes — for both of you — and that you’re emotionally invested. When a client feels like you’re HER creative director (not just the agency’s), she’s more likely to trust that you are balancing the interests of the brand with the desire to do the best work.
Make feedback a conversation
Trust is about more than simply believing in the talent of the creative team, or its leader. Getting involved with the brief from its inception and discussing it with the client along the way will ensure her you fully understand, and agree to, the strategy and message. Subjectivity aside, work that answers a brief your client knows you participated in crafting makes it more difficult to rationalize killing your babies.
Building real trust with the client requires collaboration post-presentation as well — and a willingness for give and take. When clients feel they can have a conversation with you about the work, as opposed to compiling and delivering feedback, they are more likely to truly listen should you feel the need to push back.
Get personal with your clients
Everybody has their thing that turns them off. Sometimes it’s a color, or a particular font, or a style of photography. But because creative is so subjective, preferences and personal style are impossible to remove from the equation. So, the more you know about your client’s tastes and triggers the better.
I’m not saying you should only give the client what you know he likes, but a knowledge of creative landmines saves time and energy. There is simply no point pursuing a concept featuring puppies when your client feels strongly that puppies have no place in advertising.
I’ve been lucky enough over the years to have great relationships with most of my clients, and I’ve noticed the better the relationship, the better the work. When your client feels listened to, they tend to listen in return. Honest, intelligent discussions about what you’re trying to accomplish, and about what works and what doesn’t, lead to productive changes that almost always make the work better. And while there are always exceptions to the rule, mutual trust (and respect) make having those fall-on-your-sword conversations easier.
KIM SMITH is a creative director at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top ad agency in Dallas. For more about challenger branding, subscribe to our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog
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