The beginning of any relationship is exciting, but it can be stressful at the same time. You get butterflies in your stomach; you’re giddy; you don’t know what to expect. You become anxious for the phone to ring; you’re not sure how many calls are too many to make. While you searched long and hard to find the right partner, when you finally pick the one and commit to them, you start to question: Did I make the right choice, and how can I make this one last?
Now, the relationship I’m referring to is the partnership between you as the client and your respective branding design agency. You’re essentially married to each other throughout the project. If it’s a good relationship, it will lead to many more projects. And, if not, well, you know what is next.
In order to ensure that you have a successful relationship, heed these five rules before diving in head first.
RULE #1: DON’T KEEP SECRETS
The first rule of thumb is to not keep any secrets and be transparent about everything. This is a two-way street, both for the client and agency. Clients will be working closely with the agency’s team, which includes a strategist, designer and account lead. In order for the agency to create a well-thought-out strategy leading to consumer connections and award-winning design, all background information about the brand, even things that you may not think are relevant, should be shared. Oftentimes, it’s in these hidden documents that the most insightful nuggets are discovered. Clients should also share insight into the inner workings of their company, brand and team.
RULE #2: HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
The second rule is to always clear the air and be honest with your account lead, as he or she will be your day-to-day contact on the project, living and breathing your brand. In order to do this, you must be candid at the inception and share everything with your partner — the good, the bad and the ugly. If there is an open, honest conversation about everything, issues can be prevented and fixed. This could be as simple as telling your partner you prefer emails to phone calls, or it could be more serious: an internal crisis that needs to be addressed.
RULE #3: THIRD TIME’S A CHARM
Don’t be afraid to ask the same question twice. You may be new to this process and unaware of the intricacies of how branding design agencies work — the lingo, creative process, stages of work, even the teams. If you don’t understand something, ask the agency to clarify further, and if it still isn’t clear, ask again. There is no such thing as a stupid question or too many. For example, a former client of mine was quiet throughout the first design review where we shared how the packaging would look with the new identity. She was with her boss, and it wasn’t until the meeting ended and she returned to her office that she contacted me, asking a million questions. She was embarrassed to ask questions in front of her boss — but that’s when you should, it shows you are being thorough and ensuring everyone is on the same page. There is nothing wrong with asking a few additional questions in order to make sure everything is crystal clear. While this may seem obvious, it is often the difference between a good brand strategy and design and a great one.
RULE #4: CREATE A BOND
Establish a tight bond with your account lead; he or she is your eyes and ears when working with the internal team of strategists and designers. It is through your frequent personal conversations you share major decisions or insights that impact the outcome of your project. During internal reviews, your lead will be able to pass along key information that may not have been reflected in the overall project brief, and it may be what ultimately guides the team in the right direction. You may think it’s the sole responsibility of the account person to work on establishing a tight relationship, but it’s also to your advantage as the client to help build and maintain it. There was a project where my client disclosed some “behind-the-scenes” information based on the new CEO and team members that were coming onto my project midway through. Needless to say, there were different opinions on the direction to take the brand. Based on the “insider’s tip,” my team and I were able to tailor our presentation to address concerns and reassure the new CEO and senior team we were addressing key brand goals and our strategy was the right way forward. Having that knowledge saved the project and relationship.
RULE #5: R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Lastly, one that should be obvious to all is to treat your partner with respect. You would be surprised how many people take out frustration and stress on those they care about the most. You only get the best out of people when you treat them in the same way you want to be treated — not by intimidating them or making them feel unappreciated. It is not only unproductive but also flat-out wrong. There was a project my team and I worked on under an extremely tight timeline with challenging deliverables, but we were on track, producing great work. Even though things were going well and the team delivered on time, the client always saw a gray cloud. Treating those who care about you and your brand with no respect can only create bad feelings and will get to a point where you start to question the relationship. There certainly have been agencies that have fired clients over the way they treated them.
For those who are new to a relationship, I hope these words of wisdom from experience are useful tools to leverage from the inception. These guidelines should help you maintain a healthy, fulfilling relationship that continually grows stronger. Who knows, it could turn out to be the most successful partnership you’ve ever had.