You work closely with your clients on a daily basis. Schedules are often hectic and fast-paced, as you focus on deadlines and meeting expectations for the creative and strategic solutions that impact your client’s business. But, when was the last time you actually really sat down and listened to your clients? Aside from ensuring timely and quality deliverables, do you know how you’re doing as a partner? As an agency?
In hopes of keeping an open dialogue with our partners outside of the creative work that’s in front of us, we’ve begun conducting quarterly roundtable conversations as part of an ongoing stream of feedback from clients. By capturing a day in the life of our clients, including their needs and expectations, we can better service them and ensure their partnership with our team is best in class.
“As a brand experience agency, it’s critical that we are delivering on our own brand promise of exceptional client service,” said Maureen Estep, VP Client Service. “By listening and gathering insights about our own industry from our very own customers, we can better understand our role in their daily lives."
(Left to right: Ron Sasaki, Shannon Kelly, Jennifer Sizemore)
For our latest roundtable discussion, we sat down with Shannon Kelly, Associate Athletics Director of Marketing & Strategy with UW Athletics; Jennifer Sizemore, VP Communications & Marketing with Fred Hutch; and Ron Sasaki, Senior Design Director with Microsoft Brand Studio for an open and enlightening conversation. Following are some of their responses:
Why did you bring on an agency as opposed to working with in-house teams?
“We brought Hornall Anderson on to re-identify ourselves to help recruit the best student athletes, usher in a new era for our brand, to answer who are we and determine what’s next. It was the smart thing to do. And it’s absolutely lived up to the expectation for us.” – Shannon Kelly.
“When there is something as important as what our brand stands for, it’s worth it to bring on an outside agency. Hornall Anderson’s expertise is something we couldn’t afford to be without. It’s rare that we bring on an agency, but very important when we do.” – Jennifer Sizemore.
“We look to Hornall Anderson for their expertise and a fresh point-of-view. We value working with external agencies who have skills that complement the set of skills we have.” – Ron Sasaki.
How do you decide (beyond expertise) which agency to hire? What is your criteria?
“Fit is definitely a big thing for us. We look for an agency with a level of sophistication that understands who we are – a group that will push us, yet understand the nuances of who we are. Let us be comfortable, but push us. Be honest with us. It’s important that whomever we bring onboard is who we want to finish with.” – Shannon Kelly
“We spoke with many agencies. We’ve had ad relationships before, but not branding. One of the most important things is fit. How you relate to the people you’ll be working with when meeting them upfront? It’s essential to know you can collaborate with the team and also have fun with them.” – Jennifer Sizemore
How do you feel about collaboration?
“It’s always a collaborative effort. Whoever our agency is, ends up becoming an extension of our team. Collaboration, fit, and trust are essential.” – Ron Sasaki
Do you desire for more clarity and transparency in the process when partnering with an outside agency?
“The desire for transparency starts with the first round – when you are getting the best sense of how the entire process will go. You need to be able to have the conversation at that point, if necessary.” – Shannon Kelly
“The key is to have an option for stopping/halting the process or the ability to readjust as the process unfolds, if necessary.” – Jennifer Sizemore.
“Setting clear expectations is how you deal with having clarity and transparency. Letting us know in advance that we have options along the way.” – Ron Sasaki
How important is access to the creative partner who is focused on the work?
“Clarity in knowing who you are working with on a daily basis – who is your go-to person? The strength of the relationship is built around the team with which you work.” – Jennifer Sizemore
What advice do you give to agency team members?
“Have a physical presence at your client’s office – attend a weekly staff meeting, engage in social gatherings, etc.” – Jennifer Sizemore
“Be one step ahead of the client. Make sure a proposed solution is on-brand and meets expectations, and then show us something that might stretch us. It shows that you listened and understand us.” – Ron Sasaki
What does success mean for you?
“For me, success is connecting with people on an emotional level. When our work emotionally speaks to people – that’s how you know you’ve struck a chord.” – Shannon Kelly
“Ultimately, it’s about delivering great design solutions for Microsoft. Success is when I see what we’ve created having business impact on a global scale.” – Ron Sasaki
In a very short time, we’ve found these touch-base roundtables to be helpful in continuing to keep open communication and transparency in our client relationships. We’ve had the opportunity to listen to many other clients who have also shared their valuable time in open dialogue with our team, including Sharon Honjiyo, Holland America; Tove Vinz, Seattle’s Best Coffee; Leslie Garrard, Starbucks; Elizabeth Dowd, REI; Amy Lavin, Obliteride; and Karen Raviv, Quaker. What we've heard consistently in these panels is that they expect our client service team to be advocates and partners, to represent the client when they're not there, to provide insights about business challenges to our teams, all so the work can be best in class.