“It seems too abstract for customers, even to those who know the brand, could you make it less conceptual?”

“Can you take it to the next level?”

“Can you put shadow lettering or make it sparkly somehow? Something with a little pizzazz. If the word could sparkle/shadow or the background could sparkle it would really jazz it up.”

Just some of the shit clients say.

The relationships between clients and creative agencies are often lampooned in creative circles. The client unfairly painted as a grotesque neanderthal that doesn’t understand the finer points of ‘creative’, whatever that might be.

The implication being that the agency is a misunderstood genius that, of course, knows best, if only the client could open their minds.

The truth is never so black and white. There are good ideas and bad ideas, insightful clients and demanding clients, and every shade of grey in between.

The disconnect comes when the client is expecting one thing, and the agency doesn’t deliver. Herein lies the problem, and the simple solution: solid briefs or lack thereof.

For us as a content agency, we need to pitch a solid idea – be it a wider strategy or an individual piece of work – with the key details in place. The client then needs to sign off on this and add their own insight. As much research as a creative agency can do, the client is still the expert.

As an example, this is how we structure our briefs for an individual article.

  • Headline – Where it all begins. What is this article about?
  • Content type – What are we writing here? i.e. list, short form, long form, interview
  • Thrust – A 5-word teaser explaining why we’re writing the article.
  • Target readers – Who are the target personas?
  • Main points – What are the key points the article needs to make, and what is the structure?
  • Conclusion – And the result is…?
  • CTA – Now what do we want the reader to do?
  • References/contacts – Any handy resources for our writer to get up to speed on the subject?

This level of detail is essential for both the client to get what they want, and for our writers to understand the subject. The details may differ depending on the project and the medium you work in, but the principle remains the same: Get on the same page and have a clear picture of what the finished product looks like.

And guess what? It’s still not right.

More often than not, the client will want builds, edits or changes.

This is the other part of nailing creative, and where the client can sometimes fall down – giving effective feedback.

The three example quotes at the top of this piece typify the ‘nightmare client’. The feedback is opaque. Vague. What are we supposed to do with – ‘give it more pizzazz’?

I put the call out to our writers for input on this. And this response is perfect: “I need guidance: concrete, explicit statements. If you’re asking for a change, anchor it to the words and phrases that provoke your reaction. Reflect and identify specific things that are giving you a specific issue.”

Bracing tone, but the point stands. If you want something changing, make sure it’s clear exactly what it is!

It’s important to say here, that the relationship between client and agency, in my experience at least, is a healthy one. Tensions can arise, but we’re all working to the same end – success (however defined) for the clients.

Great work requires input from both sides.

Nail that, and the finished product will be full of next level pizzazz.

Ta ra

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I’m the Head of Content for Future Content and the man in charge of words. As a former journalist for a number of publications, from Chat to MailOnline to that’s Shanghai, I have a wealth of editorial experience and a way of making words do good.

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