When creativity is not enough

Clever creatives may impress potential clients, but that’s not enough to win briefs. You must understand the business case too, says Elizabeth Lockwood

One of the most interesting elements of any client-side marketer’s job is interviewing and appointing design consultancies. It is a glorious moment when clients get to marvel at the talent of a group of creative individuals and ultimately work with them. Indeed, it is similar in scale and emotion to the moment at school when the cool kids allow the not so popular to join them, even if only for a second.

Creatives have the ability – in the main – to be who they are, dress the way they like and spend their days doing what they love. This is often in stark contrast to their rather more staid client colleagues who are often bound by the draconian rigidity and processes of corporate life.

Client-side marketers who hold the purse strings – and therefore control consultancy appointments – tend to be senior and well-versed in the business objectives and strategies of their organisation.

For these people, of which I was one for many years, the opportunity to mentally ditch the suit and think about things other than the bottom line is a sheer delight.

From experience, creative presentations tend to be filled with an array of exciting and intriguing past work, a unique ethos and perspective, and (depending on the consultancy) some level of flattery and gift of the gab.

The work, in the most part, is second to none, the ideas and the designs are unexpected and enjoyable. However, and there is a however, there is often very little explanation of the business case behind each of the pieces of work.

Times have changed, and with them the skills required of a client-side marketer. They are no longer the softer creatures of old and, even though they may wish to ‘paddle barefoot in the sea of creativity’ – as a marketing director of a large retailer once described the process – it is crucial consultancies take time to understand the client’s business and the market they operate in, and what is of real value to them.

To put it simply, consultancies must unpick and understand the business case behind a commission.

Good creative work without knowledge and understanding of the client’s objectives – and how they fit within the context of its overall business and brand strategy – is just good creative work.

Where a consultancy adds real and tangible value is in transforming itself from a supplier of a design commodity into an advisor with sound thought-leadership. Demonstrating both the ability and the knowledge to assist the client during the creation and shaping of a brief is central to developing a relationship that will weather economic storms and all manner of competition.

And it’s not hard. Far from needing an MBA or the ability to dissect a balance sheet, it can be really quite simple. Talk to clients regularly, about themselves, their careers, their business strategy and the thinking behind it. Examine how they manage and develop their clients and customers strategically. It will tell you a lot about them and their focus. Scanning the business press will tell you about major recent activities that can set context and kick-start a discussion.

It doesn’t take much, or long, to create a deeper understanding of them as an individual and their business, and create a different consultancy/client relationship which may offer further opportunities that your client might not even have identified.

As for new clients, find out about them in detail before shaking their hand. Ignore their website as few are impressed by reeling off facts learned this way, and talk to other creatives who already work with them, and to people within their peer group. Read about their business, their industry and their market, and understand their brand positioning and value proposition.

Above all, don’t wing it. If you don’t know, don’t pretend. A recent presentation resulted in a creative making reference to how a particular piece of collateral would assist share performance. When asked to comment on the share price, they were unable to give the previous day’s closing price. Needless to say, they left empty-handed and red-faced.

The marketing landscape is changing fast for clients. Economic pressures mean more scrutiny over creative spend. Marketers have less money and have to do more with it, and desperately need to achieve robust results that deliver on their company’s strategy. Help them help you, because giving them good creative just isn’t good enough.

Elizabeth Lockwood is brand director at Infanta Creative and former head of marketing for Land Securities

Developing a head for business

• Do your homework with new clients – talk to other creatives who already work with them and read up on their industry
• Talk to clients about their careers and business strategies
• Scan the business press to gain an idea of market context – never try to wing it because the client will always know
• Try to be more than a provider of a design commodity – it may even help you shape the brief

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