In a previous blog, I described a great design like a song. It needs to be catchy, infectious and inclusive, and you know it’s working when you see it’s intended audience all fully engaged with it. In other words: dancing. The seeds of that success can often be traced back to a great collaboration.
Creative collaboration with clients is a rewarding yet sometimes precarious process. From the client perspective, you might come to the table with a strong background in your particular industry and you certainly know your own products and services. From the Production Partner side, you may have strong skills in story-telling, a flair for design, and maybe the benefit experience of working with similar companies within the same industry. But before either team gets to exercise any skills and experience, you have to find some common ground where you can all take your first steps from.
As a Creative Director, I take that early opportunity to do some industry research and “get my head into the game”. This typically includes learning as much as I can about the client company, their products, their marketing, and culture. Because when you start “throwing spaghetti on the wall” in a client attended brain storm session, it helps if you both speak the same language and are working from the same data. The other reason to do this homework is so you don’t “step in it”. Knowing what to say is important. Knowing what not to say is critical. Now, you’re ready to take those first steps, in sync, with your client partner.
Preparation now behind you, you may be set off towards successful collaboration but there are still pit-falls ahead of you. Your style of communication. Just like dancing, it’s often better if you have some rhythm with your partner. Say something…then listen…then react…then listen again…then arrive at solutions. Sounds easy? It should be. One good way to have a mis-step, is to be so dug in on your own idea, to the degree that you can no longer accept any other ideas. Your idea could very well be the best logical approach, but it might not be so well received if it feels forced or exclusive to only your perspective. Collaboration is a two-way street, which means you must allow your clients some room to contribute, otherwise you are just dragging them along. That may also come with an unintentional perception that your idea just isn’t the best idea…all other ideas are wrong. Even if you ultimately land in a good place, your collaborating team may feel excluded from the process and may have trouble buying in whole-heartedly.
Those who know me, know I love a good analogy. So, here’s one for today: Yes, you can lead the dance, but that doesn’t mean you should throw your partner around the room, or even worst, ignore them while you show-boat across the floor.
The best creative collaborations lead to the longest client relationships. They encourage team work and a desire to “do it again”. They feel good in the moment and afterwards and when the song is over, you’ll be asked to dance again.
Bob Pascarella is Creative Director with Fenway Group in Boston MA and may or may not have questionable dance moves.