How do you teach a client from outside the UK the way to get the best results from their creative suppliers when they are unfamiliar with the established working methods?

An international brokerage with its UK base at Canary Wharf was rapidly establishing itself as a market leader in its field, with an aggressive sales and marketing department led by a very competent Sales Director recently arrived from the US. Their service offering was excellent, but they were disappointed with the low level of client uptake in the UK, despite this being at a time when amateur ‘day traders’ – their target market – were on the increase and the financial markets were enjoying their pre‐crash highs. They offered a range of potentially complex services which needed careful explanation to an audience of non‐professional users without a solid background in the vagaries of share trading, and they were looking for someone to help them reach their target audience through clear communication.


An old colleague from our days as design practitioners happened to mention that his agency was supplying the brokering company with marketing material, and hinted that the relationship was tricky to the point of near break down. Communication was poor, and a lack of understanding of the client/supplier relationship from the client was making the situation unworkable. Our colleague recommended us to his clients as people who understood the creative industry extremely well, but also had a clear understanding of their area of business through our long experience of working with financial organizations. The Sales Director, unfamiliar with the creative supply chain in the UK, was pleased to welcome us on board in an advisory role.


This situation presented us with an obvious case for our ‘Communicate’ practice. There was clearly a breakdown in understanding on both sides, with the client making unrealistic demands in a manner that failed to motivate the suppliers, and the suppliers consequently failing to deliver. We quickly devised a plan which involved meeting all their creative suppliers, providing an assessment of their performance and identifying any problems in the relationship with the client, deciding on a period during which we would act as a ‘go‐between’ for the two or more parties, and finally handing back all briefing and liaison to the client. This was to be an exercise in teaching the client how to adopt the ‘English way’ in getting the best from creatives, whilst teaching the creatives how to look beyond the stereotype and control their sensibilities.


From our initial meeting with the directors, we went on to organize meetings with all their existing creative suppliers, from basic web banner designers to TV advertising agencies. We spent time talking to the staff at all levels, gauging the relationship and discussing ways in which they thought it could be improved. This was definitely a ‘one person’ problem – the new Sales Director was unwittingly alienating what had previously been a contented bunch of creatives supplying quality work, on time and on budget.

We suggested that we should operate as intermediaries for a limited period of time, taking briefs from the client and reinterpreting them for the suppliers in a language they understood, copying the client in on all correspondence with the aim of instructing the client in ‘speaking creative’.

The whole process took just over six months from initial meeting to final report.


As soon as the suppliers realized that their concerns were being taken seriously, and that they were being ‘protected’ from the client during the induction period, the situation began to improve. Expectations were managed on both sides, and the Sales Director had more time to become familiar with the working methods of suppliers in the UK before moving back into a direct briefing position.

With the initial problem openly acknowledged and addressed by all parties, everyone was much more prepared to make an effort to ensure that the relationship succeeded in the longer term. Armed with a new expertise in

‘speaking creative’, the Sales Director was able to go on to build successful partnerships with the suppliers.