Listen First. And Second.
We’re not so different, agencies and clients. We each have deadlines, bosses to please, and reputations at stake. We both want success, but would like to see our friends and loved ones with some regularity. We both appreciate a challenge, but aren’t looking for a fight. So why is it so painfully difficult at times to create great, impactful work together?
Here’s a simple thought: we’ve stopped listening to each other. I mean really listening. The kind of listening that forces creatives to put down their Sharpies and really think. The kind of listening that makes clients a little sick to their stomachs with nervous energy. “But we listen,” you say. “We wrote the brief with their input, they signed off; we heard each other loud and clear.” No, we didn’t. The act of listening takes more than ping-ponging emails with attached drafts. It takes an honest, face-to-face discussion with all parties involved including (absolutely) the creative team – before the first keyboard stroke of the brief. We may not be well suited for many lines of work, but creatives hold the positions they do because of their ability to sift through the noise and strike the most resonant chord with the most receptive audience. A good creative should always be part planner.
In turn, nothing keeps a creative team focused like a client’s dilemma. An honest, pre-brief discussion helps reveal the real business problem; what the creative work absolutely must solve for in all its sweet specificity. Contrary to popular belief – that’s a good thing; a broad brief helps no one. But most importantly, a face-to-face meeting is a human interaction. A familiar ritual filled with handshakes, smiles, nods, eye-rolls, laughter, challenges, small talk, and more. That’s how we get to know each other; that’s how we begin to trust each other. And without trust, you can’t create great, impactful work. Would you allow an architect you’d never met to walk into your home and sell you an expensive addition, no matter how smart and beautifully designed it seemed? Doubt it. Now, we’re not building houses, but what we do together with clients can not only build brands but careers. It’s personal. And the more personal we can make the process, the better.