6 Rules to Making Inspiring Creative, Learned From Great Clients

Blog - Belgrade, 12 September 2019

In my entire career, I can’t recall one instance of a client saying, “We’d like you to create average work. That’s all this brand needs.”

Nobody wants average work. But creating advertising that transforms brands is not a process for the faint of heart. It takes soul-searching, hard questions, candor, collaboration and daring. No wonder so few ideas and even fewer relationships make it to the other end.

And yet some clients do it with regularity. What do they do differently? As I look at the lessons I’ve learned from the best clients I’ve worked with, I’ve identified six rules that set them apart.

They own the idea

Susan Credle, my creative partner, and I share this fundamental belief: great work and iconic campaigns are the brainchildren of individual clients, not organizations. I call this person “the owner of the idea.”

Typically, it’s the CMO, but anyone in a client organization who has the determination and belief to sell and protect the idea can play this role.

They are human

Great work comes from great people, and better clients attract better people. They do this in ways that can best be described as human.

Following these simple tenets is infectious. It gets people with world-class talent to bleed for you.

These clients wear their passion for their brands on their sleeves and desire for great work in their hearts. They seek and welcome feedback, and their drive to do great things inspires us at every step of the journey.

They trust creativity

Creativity is the most valuable resource for any modern business, but unlocking its power demands courage, patience and especially trust. Those attributes are table stakes for the best clients.

They recognize that creativity requires risk. Ideas need time to develop. Great clients are unwavering in their commitment to the idea, usually without empirical evidence to support their faith. And when uncertainty and risk emerge, clients recognize those variables as a good sign that the idea before them just became worth trusting.

They read Gideon Amichay

Gideon Amichay wrote the book No, No, No, No, No, Yes. His premise is that great ideas will be met with a no five times before it becomes a yes.

Great clients are on a mission to create iconic work that produces lasting, meaningful brands. When others say it’s not possible or it’s never been done before, they fight tooth and nail to make it happen.

They don’t BS

Great clients say what they mean. Being truthful and candid doesn’t make them look weak; it makes them look strong. And their candor and transparency encourages us to trust them. And finally, if there’s a lack of diversity in the room, they let it be known. Diversity drives creativity, and great clients (and great agencies) demand it.

They give constructive feedback

Great clients give constructive feedback every day. The method I was taught is “Green Hat, Orange Hat, Red Hat.” Imagine a colored hat hovering over your head as you speak.

The green hat is positive reinforcement, which is 50% of speaking time. The orange hat are questions generated by the presentation., which is 20%–40% of speaking time. The red hat are challenges, provocations and concerns, which is 10%–30% of speaking time.

Whichever technique they use, great clients leave every meeting having inspired, questioned and challenged the creative team. Those who do build what we describe as “never finished” brands are brands that work continuously to drive business and society forward. These clients change the world. If you’re fortunate enough to work with them, hold onto them for dear life. I know I do.


Original text published on adweek.com.

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