When it comes to BlackBerries, iPhones, Facebook and Twitter, most of us in the communications business would agree that the positives far outweigh the negatives. We invest judiciously in mobile and social media for their cost-effectiveness, relevance and highly targetable "connections." We happily tweet, text, email and Skype our way through the workload, knowing we are more efficient and more productive than ever. We embrace, even celebrate, the age of digital communication. We are on board the proverbial technology train.
Of course, we are also aware of the downside. As face-to-face meetings and phone calls are supplanted by video chats and texts, clients and agencies simply do not have the relationships they did 20 years ago. The lifespan of client-agency partnerships is shrinking. The process of getting to know a brand and translating it creatively is devolving. And the trust between client and agency, which is so critical to great work, is not being built in 140 characters.
This is not a new concern. The evolution of the client-agency relationship is inevitable and, for the most part, beneficial. However, while we are adapting to new ways of communicating, we should also consider melding the old with the new. Because by taking a page from client-agency relations before the smartphone became the new liaison, clients and agencies will improve communications, create better work and ultimately save everyone time and money. (Yes, save time and money by having in-person meetings instead of exchanging texts. Really.) Here's how:
In-person creative briefings/kick-off meetings
Remember the days when clients and agencies would meet in person for creative kick-offs/input sessions? Neither do most clients and agencies. Today, input sessions often take the form of a Word document sent via email, with no accompanying phone call. From our work with clients looking for a new agency to those simply looking for a partnership temperature check, we can attest that de-prioritizing in-person briefings is one of the quickest ways to ensure miscommunication, misunderstanding and more rounds of work than necessary. It may seem like an area where time can be saved, but in truth, it is not. Taking the time to brief the agency, ideally in person, will allow for questions to be answered and, ultimately, yield better creative in less time.
Creative concept 'check-ins'
Somewhere back in the recesses of our minds a few of us may remember "tissue sessions" -- informal check-in meetings that would occur between the creative brief and formal concept presentation. Is this happening today in client-agency processes? Rarely. Ironically, it occurs and is essentially required of clients and agencies during a pitch. We call them workshops in our agency reviews, and the client and agency welcome the opportunity to elaborate on feedback, pose questions and provide course correction if necessary. While it's tempting to abandon this step in the real-life working relationship, doing so removes a face-to-face bonding opportunity as well as decreases the likelihood of the client getting the work they want.
Picking up the phone ... to speak, not text
Senior agency leaders and their client counterparts should be talking frequently as well as meeting in person. Period. Whether there is something unexpected that the client should be prepared for or a standing phone call to maintain the imperative dialogue around expectations, objectives and concerns, the leaders on the client and agency side need to be talking. And this should be a practice across all levels of the client-agency partnership. Emailing concepts and tweeting feedback does not a healthy relationship make. Talking to one another is the only way trust and open communication can develop and result in the agency understanding their client's business.
We know there are detriments to relying too heavily on texting and emailing, but the time and money they seemingly save often wins the day. So the question isn't "Can we meet and speak more often?" It's "Will we?" Because while a client-agency relationship often does prioritize digital communication over in-person meetings and phone calls, it doesn't mean that it should.