Developing an agency isn’t just about winning more clients and producing more work; it’s about improving the quality of both. In the rush for a dependable flow of work, too many agencies fall into the production house trap, churning out the same flat template again and again. Your best creatives won’t be challenged; your clients won’t be noticed. It’s a sure road to creative ruin and, therefore, agency stagnation.
So how do you avoid becoming a production house? How do you navigate creative conservatism and client insecurity? How exactly can you get clients to give you more creative work and try new approaches?
Reframe the brief
The type of work you get isn’t always the work you want. When you start to receive the same unimaginative brief from a client, you know you’re sliding towards production house territory, so always try to nip it in the bud.
It takes a certain volume of guts to ask your client to reconsider what they actually want once they’ve sent over in a brief. But remember that client briefs aren’t always the product of days of intense brainstorming and strategy discussion. More usually, they are roughly thrown together and reproduce what has worked before.
If you think your client’s requests are getting dangerously flat, try and rework briefs with them, suggesting new approaches and ideas they could benefit from. Having this negotiation meeting face-to-face can be more effective, and helps express how seriously you’re taking your creative relationship. When you’re ready to showcase your ideas, lead with your wild card instead of the safest option.
Solve problems your client hasn’t identified
Instead of passively waiting for a brief and challenging it, actively seek out the work you’d like to do for your client. Realize that as your client’s agent, you are a trusted advisor: you should be able to find new opportunities for them which create new value. And your ideas should come from a position of authority, since you are the expert and have a fresh perspective separate from your client’s way of thinking.
So take advantage of it – identify weak spots in their products, services, systems and communications, then pitch how you could solve them. Offer complementary services to those your client already has, as long as it makes sense. By proactively finding new opportunities for your client, and showing them how they can improve their business, you become a lot more valuable.
Problem solving like this lets you define the precise parameters of the work you would like to do; you’re essentially creating your dream brief and proving your commitment to your client in the process.
Get your clients to share
This one essentially comes down to building serious trust. You want to get to a position where your client sees you as an ally and indispensable counsel.
It’s all about getting intimately acquainted with what really matters to them: how they think, what’s driving them and what they really want. And you need to actually listen to them and register how they’re feeling about their company direction, brand story and competitive positioning.
Workshops, idea generation sessions and more in-person meetings are great ways of really learning about your clients on a personal level. It helps you understand their tactics and approaches, and how they view and interact with their customers. Get them talking as much as possible, opening up the conversation to really explore what they want and need. And in turn, become an essential part of their team by supporting and guiding that self-exploration.
Pimp your communications
There are more subtle ways of showcasing your skill to clients, starting with your own external communications.
Your website, newsletters, resource materials and emails – these are the digital assets you have complete creative direction over, and offer huge opportunity to show off exactly what you’re capable of. Approach every external communication as an advertisement for your agency, embellishing them with animations, cutting edge interaction design and different media.
It’s essentially a free space to exhibit your agency’s unique way of thinking, so make sure you actually invest time into developing these communications. It’s not unknown for clients to see a cool feature on your website and ask you to adapt it in your next project with them.
Don’t just rely on your digital game: to build your own creative credentials, you need to master your personal appearances.
Holding stimulating talks at events and conferences are effective ways of shining a light on your agency’s thinking. Positioning yourself as an expert and inspiring new thought can strengthen the appeal of your business through association: you don’t need to slavishly tie every point to your agency. Don't sell; keep it natural, human and interest-led.
Podcasts are another effective medium for this, and allow a wider set of people to come into contact with your agency’s ideas. If you think this route could work for you, make sure you work in some guest interviews and collaborations with like-minded companies; it’s an easy way to tap into new audiences and attract new attention.