Have you ever been “stung” by the experience of working with a creative? You thought you understood what was going on, you thought THEY understood your instructions clearly but still, despite your best intentions, something went awry. In my nearly 20years experience working as a photographer, designer and advertising exec, I’ve seen a few projects fall over for all kinds of reasons. But when they come off, it’s a sight to behold and the success of each project hinges on these three elements:
RELATIONSHIP – Who the “client” is sometimes can be a blurry line. However, after many years of working with international corporate clients who have accounts departments who don’t recognise my client delineations, I’ve quickly established a very complicated client hierarchy which is; who pays my bill, is my client. Sounds so fundamentally simple, right? Money in = Services out. Hmmmm…so what happens when my “client” (the person paying the bill) is NOT the person I’m shooting? It happens all the time – my client is the marketing/graphic design/advertising/web design agency who is creating a print/branding/advertising/social media/web campaign for their client the small or large business owner/corporate CEO/marketing manager of a large corporate/franchise manager. This is where REALLY good relationships are key and speak louder than any financial contract.
You don’t have to sit by the fire and braid each other’s hair, but there is a certain level of personal connection that is required for a project to to reach a level of success that you never thought possible. But tread lightly… Sometimes you have such a well worn and trusted relationship with your creative, that you know that they know what the expectations are before they’re spoken. When you can relax into a business relationship with a creative that “just gets it”, it’s like nirvana! But these kinds of relationships rarely happen spontaneously. Like any relationship, they take understanding, patience nurturing and work. If you’re not quite at the “nirvana” level with your relationship, don’t feel awkward to spell out the bleeding obvious. What is a gimme to you, may not be so much to your creative. It’s better to risk a few slightly long-winded and “captain obvious” emails and make your request crystal clear than make assumptions for fear of hurting someone’s feelings and end up with a result that is quite unexpected, and not in a good way.
COMMUNICATION – “For my creative to effectively communicate my brand message to my customers, I must first communicate my intent to my creative.”
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Understanding your intent for your project is key. Who am I communicating to? What do I want to say? What channels will I use to communicate them? You can’t expect to get a good ROI if you leave your creative team to stab around in the dark, looking for your message for you. Communication also means to do exactly that, communicate. Meet with your creative face to face. If you’re distance affected, pick up the phone and be available for conversations – ie, if your creative is trying to get you on the phone three times in a day, there’s a good chance they have some information that you need to hear.
Don’t communicate ANY details/questions/conversations about the job at hand via txt. Txt’ing is ideal for minor notifications; “did you see the email from the client?”, but any detail that requires it to be written down and responded to intelligently deserves the time for an email. A phone call is my chosen method of communication as it is much more efficient and there is much less risk of misunderstanding. The nuance and intent of human language is completely missing from a txt or email which leaves yourself wide open to misinterpretations by others which at best are hilarious, at worst can be disastrous.
CLIENT BRIEF – Ahhh, the golden egg, the Mickey to my Minnie. Good ones are like a Capiroska at the end of a hot summers day, bad one’s are not dissimilar to the toilet in Trainspotting (Google it, I dare you). As a community service to all my fellow creatives, I’ve attached my JettyBlue_Photography brief for all you business owners to download. PLEASE! I implore you – download it, read it and fill it out BEFORE you engage your creative.
If you don’t know what a brief is, never had to do one before or thought it was something only the big corporates do for projects with a dollar value of in the hundreds of thousands…think again. Your brief is the lynch pin in the success of your project. I have devised this brief after many years of working in advertising with huge multi nationals such as Volvo Trucks, Oroton and Novartis. Even when their marketing managers from time to time thought a brief was a bit of over-kill, I at the very least sat down with them and verbally asked them the relevant question from my brief template, taking notes the whole time. I got a brief from them in the end, they just didn’t know it. An experienced creative will at the very least, ask for your brief before they can even quote your project.
A brief is essentially a set of instructions for your creative team to follow. Think of it like building a house – you would never expect a builder to construct your dream house based on “four bedrooms and an ensuite please” scribbled onto a post-it. How would he even quote such a request? In this instance, the “brief” comes in the form of the architect’s plans. The client and their creative team have collaborated to create an agreed upon set of instructions for the builder to follow. Only then can the builder accurately quote the project and begin construction.
So, if you engage a creative without a 100% concrete idea of what you want, that’s not the end of the world either. Nothing is ever black and white and a good creative will help guide you through the maze of indecision. We understand that sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know so you don’t know what to ask! If when you’re sitting down at a meeting with your creative and you don’t have a brief and in turn she/he asks what seems like an inane amount of questions at a level of tediousness that borders on certifiably psychotic – they’re the creatives you engage. The ones who nod a lot and tell you what you want to hear just to get the job won’t give you the return you’re after. They’ll give you a reflection of what you’ve given them – not very much.
It’s the creatives who aren’t afraid to say “no” to your face that are the most valuable. Because chances are, those are the creatives that have been around the block more than a few times and they DO know all the things you don’t know you don’t know. All the tedious questions are their way of extracting the brief out of you. You never know, you might just learn something about your business in the process. That’s the power of a really good creative mind. Use it wisely.
Want to see the success stories that are the direct result of a killer brief and a co-operative relationship between all stakeholders? Here they are:
By Samantha Halpern
B. Visual Communications (Photography & Digital Imaging)
Dip. Fine Arts (Photography)
Fully Accredited Member of the AIPP since 2008
Owner and Principle Photographer at JettyBlue Photography