At Blue Feathers, we think it’s vital to work in a true collaboration with our clients. We’re lucky to work with top marketeers who are responsible for some of the UK’s best-loved brands, combining our clients’ expertise with our skills to deliver great results for them.
According to happiness researcher Shawn Achor, if you’re looking at a mountain you need to climb on your own, you perceive it to be 10-20% steeper than if you were looking at it with a friend or colleague who’ll climb it with you! So working together can make a tangible and positive difference.
What do we mean by ‘true collaboration’?
The textbook definition of collaboration is ‘a well-defined relationship of two or more people working together to achieve a mutually beneficial common goal.’
At Blue Feathers, we take this a step further. We think it’s also about working openly, so our clients understand what’s happening, and why, at every step. While we do the heavy lifting, we share our thought processes in a way that means our clients maintain ownership. We know that our involvement on a project will eventually come to an end, so it’s important that we leave our clients with the knowledge that has been gained collectively, so they can take the project forward.
5 principles that underpin true collaboration
Be clear on the real objective from the start.
This may sound obvious, but its importance is often overlooked. Discussing and agreeing the objective up front saves a lot of time and debate later on.
We work with our clients to frame a clear intention or vision of what they want to do and, equally importantly, why. Sometimes key client stakeholders may have different views, so this needs to be explored and discussed as a team to reach a common understanding and shared goal.
Re-sharing the objective at the start of meetings, presentations or workshops can seem a small thing, but it is important to remind everyone of what the project needs to achieve – it creates a helpful drumbeat to keep everyone on track.
On a recent proposition development project, we worked closely with the client to redefine the project objective, as things were changing at pace in the organisation, and the project had become even more important since our proposal had been signed off. We built in extra time to discuss and re-set the objective as a team.
Work openly to maintain ownership.
It’s important that clients feel in control and understand the process an agency goes through ‘behind the scenes’. While the agency is there to drive the work and do the thinking, the client needs to feel involved and supported, and for the project’s ultimate success, they need to maintain overall ownership.
We believe it’s important to not just present the answer, but also to ‘show your workings’ with the insight and evidence that explains how you came to that outcome. Clients will often need to share the work to gain buy-in with their stakeholders, so always think about what they might need in advance and regularly check in on it to stay ahead.
On a project where we were exploring whether the client should launch an existing brand into a new market, we presented three positioning options and ran a working session for the client to review them and give their thoughts. It resulted in the client feeling very confident when they shared a final recommendation with internal stakeholders.
Celebrate mental diversity.
True collaboration also happens when clients feel they can bring their whole selves to the project or task, and their views are respected. Everyone should feel listened to and encouraged to participate, innovate, and communicate. We always value different points of view – it helps to improve our work!
This applies when working with other agencies too. We often work with our clients’ research or creative agencies, and it’s important that everyone involved can share their skills so we can all do our collective best for the client. It should feel seamless for the client, so we recommend setting up a kick-off meeting with the other agencies as soon as possible to get to know each other and discuss the project.
One project we collaborated on to develop a proposition for health insurance involved a client’s research agency delivering qualitative research. We worked closely with the agency, inputting into the discussion guide and running a weekly check-in with them. There were also regular check-ins during the research groups, which we observed online, and after the groups we made sure we all heard each other’s thoughts, especially the moderators. It helped us quickly refine the concepts and decide together whether any further research was needed. Combined knowledge is powerful and really helps to create team spirit and drive mutual respect.
Engage stakeholders throughout.
Once you’ve agreed your core project team with the client (the people who are involved day-to-day in driving the project forward), then think about who the other main stakeholders are that need to be involved – what do they need from the project and what do you need from them? It may not just be internal stakeholders – think about other agencies or partner organisations too, as they may be running projects that are co-dependant with yours. Work together with your client project lead to identify who you need to engage, when and how – considering their time and influence on the project. Be clear why their input matters.
If you run a workshop, invite participants to any follow-up activity, for example customer focus groups or project summary presentations, so they understand how their work has contributed to the project. People like to know the time they spent was worthwhile!
For one brand strategy project, we ran two face-to-face workshops with a variety of stakeholders. We worked closely with the client project lead to make sure we fully understood the stakeholders’ perspectives and then developed the workshop plans to foster productive discussions. This approach made sure that everyone felt appropriately involved and able to input along the way. Effectively communicating with all those involved by regularly sharing next steps with clear dates is also vital to build trust.
Flex when needed.
Always allow for a margin of flexibility. You may need to accelerate or pivot a project, based on changes within the client’s organisation or customer feedback. Whatever the reason, work as a team with your client and discuss the options you have, any implications on the timeline, and if any stakeholders need to be made aware. Build in regular check-ins from the start, so that if things do need to change – big or small – you have time already planned in to discuss them, as diaries can get busy.
Last summer we had 24 hours to move a workshop to online instead of face-to-face, due to a heatwave weather warning. Working closely with the core project team and other key stakeholders, we made sure the switch was as efficient and seamless as possible. The workshop received very positive feedback and delivered great outputs, and everyone had fun despite the last-minute change. The unexpected can happen and that’s when true collaboration and strong relationships really pay off.
To build a truly collaborative client and agency partnership, be clear on the objective up front, ensure the client maintains ownership, celebrate mental diversity, keep stakeholders engaged and flex quickly when needed.
Climbing a mountain with others can seem up to 20% easier than climbing it alone. We believe a great agency should help lead the team up the mountain, but let them reach the summit first, knowing that they have the right knowledge and understanding to move forward from there.
If you have a brand strategy or proposition development challenge you think we could help with, get in touch – we’d be delighted to climb that mountain with you!
Author: Michelle Solomon
Michelle is a brand and communications strategist with experience working for blue chip companies, government bodies and national charities, including Tesco, E.ON, Severn Trent, Shelter and the Food Standards Agency. With a degree in psychology, Michelle likes using her skills to identify what drives and motivates customers and colleagues. Michelle is passionate about brand and customer experience and enjoys facilitating workshops to unearth actionable insight for clients.