How do you establish trust between a client and their creative suppliers to create the optimum environment for innovation and flair?

A common complaint from creative agencies is that their clients won’t let them help them. We hear it all the time, and what it really means is that there is a basic lack of trust that prevents the creatives from giving their best. Instead, they routinely provide safe solutions with which the clients feel comfortable, yet this is rarely ground-breaking work, and is ultimately bad for their reputation and bad for the client’s bottom line. In the case of one particular client of ours, this scenario was not only immediately apparent, but was exacerbated by far too wide a spread of agencies all competing for the same work, and often through poor communication within the client’s organization, duplicating effort – and costs – to the point where something had to be done. As a fast-growing service provider with ambitions for global domination of their market sector, they were now answerable to shareholders with a close eye on the year end results, and efficiencies were needed.


Thanks to a very clever and unique business proposition with a rapid take‐up rate, this company had grown from strength to strength in a short space of time. Developing from a 3‐man team, one of whom handled all the creative work in the early days, they now had large offices in London and satellite offices around the world, all with creative teams in place. In addition, they outsourced work to a number of creative agencies throughout Europe, many of whom had been brought in by senior managers who had joined the client company from other organizations, and who felt comfortable with the service that their preferred agencies provided and, in particular, the previously engendered working relationship. Unfortunately, this had led to a situation where too much power lay in the hands of individual department managers, who were dodging the system by briefing their favoured agencies on work for their own departments, with little regard for the ‘bigger picture’ and with no awareness of duplication of tasks. As a result, the agencies were only privy to a small part of the client’s total creative requirement and felt that they were being underused and undervalued. This was drawn to the attention of our client’s boss, who asked for our help.


This situation presented us with an obvious case for our ‘Motivate’ practice. Our client was suffering from poor creative standards resulting from the company’s decentralized approach to outsourcing the work. The suppliers were taking on projects on an ad‐hoc basis, without being given the opportunity to provide either a much wider range of services, or in some cases, the same service across all the client’s many departments, and motivation levels were unsurprisingly low. We soon realized that we would need to visit or meet with all their external creative service providers in order to ascertain how the current situation had come about, and why it had been allowed to continue. We would ask each of them to respond with suggestions for ways to build stronger, more mutually beneficial relationships with our client.


Following meetings with our client, we were provided with a list of all current suppliers of creative services within Europe. We embarked on a series of face‐to‐face interviews with directors from all the companies involved, where we quickly established a rapport as independent advisors with considerable inside knowledge of the creative mindset.  In this environment, the suppliers felt sufficiently relaxed to open up about the difficulties they had encountered with our client, from poor briefing and scheduling to an overall feeling of a lack of trust. It transpired that they found vital information difficult to obtain, especially in relation to competitor activity or long‐term strategy, leading to unsatisfactory, short‐term solutions. Without exception, they all felt that they could and should be doing more to help our client.

At the same time, we arranged meetings with department managers within our client’s company, to determine their level of satisfaction with the services provided by the external creative suppliers. We soon found that many of them were unaware of the requirements from other departments and unfamiliar with many of the suppliers outside their own limited experience. As this had created a situation where work and fees were being duplicated, the managers quickly realized that efficiencies were needed.

We prepared a set of proposals for improving levels of motivation within the external creative service companies, including a change in the lines and levels of communication with our client. We listed their various grievances and set about detailing an improvement plan for the directors’ consideration. Within the period of our involvement (around 8 weeks in total), we also initiated meetings with the parent companies of several of the suppliers with a view to centralizing the services under one roof, analysing and reporting on the potential benefits that this would bring.

We continued our conversation with departmental managers across the organization in an effort to arrive at a common approach to commissioning creative work. Our aim was to avoid all unnecessary duplication in terms of time, effort and resources, whilst at the same time extending greater powers to the suppliers to provide the services for which they were best qualified.

A final report was submitted to the client giving details of all our findings and with proposals for improving ongoing relationships with all external creative service providers. Standard industry service level agreements were introduced to several suppliers as a way of guaranteeing confidence to both parties.


After consultation with senior management and between different departments, it was decided that the majority of our client’s creative needs should be provided by one large supplier who until then had only contributed a small proportion of the total requirement. The efficiencies that this move brought in terms of briefing and costing were both immediate and significant. With a larger part of the budget at their disposal, this new team was able to commit highly qualified staff and sufficient resources to the client’s work to ensure a greatly improved level of service and creativity, whilst offering an attractive price package to the client through anticipated volumes.

With this new relationship in place, and a clearer demarcation of all remaining work to other sub‐contractors, a much-improved workflow was established.