An agency should never be afraid to challenge a client’s understanding of how they see themselves.
The most rewarding projects are sometimes the most challenging. When clients have a difficult problem that they haven’t been able to solve themselves, the more important our role in helping them solve this challenge.
The challenge might be to:
For an agency collaborating with a client, what are the signs that show it’s going well:
A client’s passion for what they do feeds our passion for what we do. Sometimes a client may feel jaded and worn out by heavy workloads, financial pressure and challenging deadlines. They may have lost their connection as to why they started their company in the first place. During an exploratory workshop, we tap into the underlying reason for why they do what they do. This approach often results in a noticeable shift in energy. The body language changes, the voice lifts and the passion emerges. This recognition is so valuable to the process. It re-energises the client and creatively inspires us. We hold on to the energy it generates and incorporate it in the brand experience to create meaningful impact.
If a client is honest about challenges they’re experiencing, it communicates a willingness to trust and also invites us to add our own perspective which may introduce a new way of seeing and tackling the challenge.
Sometimes clients don’t need to specifically tell us where their value lies. We can see it for ourselves. The energy in the room can sometimes change when a client is engaged in answering a particular question. We also do our industry research in advance of meeting to give us a first time impression of the competitor landscape. As the client answers our questions, we’re benchmarking that against what we already know. Is what they’re saying different to what their competitors are saying? If it’s not, we’ll call them out on it
Gaining a multi-faceted perspective is vital. People with different roles within the same company have different experiences of it. Their opinions not only add a new dimension to the conversation but may also give new insights to their colleagues. Are stakeholders aligned in what they’re saying? Are there conflicting viewpoints? It’s our job to recognise these and challenge opinions to ensure the stakeholders resolve these differences of opinion in real-time. Sometimes an agreement is reached. Sometimes not. Differences of opinion are important – they raise questions that enrich thinking, widen perspectives and birth new ideas. It’s healthy and productive.
As the agency is the party being hired for its expertise, it needs to demonstrate confidence and ability throughout the process. Yet it’s so important that the client’s knowledge of their brand and their industry is fully respected by the agency.
It’s a delicate balance to strike. An agency should never be afraid to challenge a client’s understanding of how they see themselves. Unfortunately not enough agencies do this. Particularly here in Ireland, we shy away from what might be perceived as confrontational. But in our experience, clients really appreciate being challenged. It compels them to justify their position with logical rationale that outsiders (like us) can understand. If they can’t justify their position, then it opens up a discussion. This results in constructive self-evaluation through a different lens. The client enjoys entertaining a new perspective. The best thing we can hope to hear in a discovery session is “hmm great question, I’ve never thought about it this way.”
Presenting our concept to the client is the time we most need their feedback. It is the time when we articulate the challenges we faced, how we approached it, the research we undertook, our understanding of who they are, what they value and how they matter and finally the rationale that led us to the solution we present. It needs to feel right to the client - it’s their brand and it needs to feel authentic. If something feels off to them, then we make sure we understand why and figure out how to address it. Just as we challenge the client in the discovery session, they have a right to challenge our solution in the concept presentation. This is why collaboration is so important.
However, collaboration is not all about challenging. It’s also about mutual respect and shared energy. Presenting a concept should be a special moment for both agency and client . For the client, it shows they’ve been listened to and they’ve successfully communicated what’s important. For an agency, the reward is to witness the joy and empowerment that follows.