With 72% of annual income being generated by existing clients (Design Business Association Annual Survey Report 2021) shows how important it is to maintain excellent working relationships. 

One enduring positive in today’s post-lockdown world is a heightened and evolving awareness about, not just our individual relationship with work, but how we are interacting and connecting with each other to create a more flexible, fluid and multi-faceted work culture.

Like any business in recent times, we have faced our challenges as well as our highs as we adapt to the new internal and external world around us. The Pearlfisher brand has been built, in large part, on the strength of our relationships with our clients and we’ve been finding the balance between providing flexibility for our teams and ensuring our continued best work for our clients that put their trust in us with their businesses. The good news is that, in many ways, this evolution has positively shifted how those relationships play out.

As a more flexible and balanced way of working – that is not defined by physical office location – looks set to endure, here are the 5 shifts that we believe will define a stronger and more symbiotic future of client-agency relationships:

From Process to Principles

The need for, and acceptance of, flexible working means the dependence on traditional infrastructures for communication and ways of working to manage projects and feedback is reducing. As we wave goodbye to email and say hello to WhatsApp for shorter, but quicker, conversation and collaboration, what’s become more important is mutual appreciation: for the people, their work ethic, what they stand for and believe in and their individual commitment to the work you’re doing together – across all teams.  

From Face (-to-face) time to Engaged time

It used to be that every meeting was in person, and the amount of face-to-face time was a measure of the commitment to the work. When this morphed into exclusive FaceTime, we all wondered about how we would redress the balance. But, the medium or platform no longer really matters. It’s less about how often and how long and more about how much value it adds. Time has become an even more precious resource for our clients and our teams. Being more considerate with each other’s time and making those moments together, in whatever form they take, truly collaborative, engaging and productive is paramount. 

From Perfection to Passion

Shiny presentations and ‘big reveals’ are a thing of the past. Whilst attention to detail is always important there’s less desire for unnecessary frills. Thoughtfulness, story-telling and theatre are, of course, valued but there’s more need to focus efforts on where it will have the most impact and that is great work. Ideas first, polish later.

From Deliverables to Destination

More than ever projects have a clear start point and end goal, but not a set deliverable. A marker of success is less about whether you keep to the original project plan and more about how you navigate the journey together to create something that feels and does good for all. How can we have the most impact with the time and budget available? As brands need to be more versatile in the channels and the way they engage consumers, diverse input can allow for the “deliverable” to be influenced based on what will tell the brand message in the most effective way. Creative teams need to be ready to think and execute broadly.

From Monologues to Meaningful Dialogue

Everyone needs to feel heard, understood and affirmed that they have something to offer, and they want to work with people who can complement, and build on their own expertise. More than ever, dialogue around recommendations from the agency team and client feedback are critical. There isn’t room for either to be too dominant. Each team needs to listen, digest, understand and align.

“When the pandemic turned things upside down, we realized we had the opportunity to lead with a whole new set of values to connect and come together. We definitely needed to reinforce the human aspect. No frills, no posing, no side agendas, just a ruthless focus on removing all unnecessary barriers and delivering the best possible work. In the end, we just wanted to show up in culture with empathy and humanity and the way to get there was exactly through empathy and humanity when creating the work.

Obviously, our relationship with our agency partners shifted as we started to relate (and work more) with the people that shared these values. Working together became so much richer and valuable. Remote collaboration became the big equalizer. Roles are not defined anymore by your “place” at the table but by the value you add and, more importantly, by the set of values & principles you bring to the conversation. Diversity of backgrounds and ideas becomes king. What’s the point of having  5 faces on the screen if they all think the same?”

– Oscar Martinez-Lopez, Senior Brand Director, Heineken USA

These shifts illustrate a general desire – from both clients and agency teams – for accessibility over access. It’s a nuanced but important shift that relies less on frequency of meetings and availability, and more on the quality and nature of the relationship with the individuals they work with. 

Looking ahead, successful client-agency relationships will be those that embrace these shifts in our changed world; working together in even more multi-dimensional ways to enable the co-creation of groundbreaking creative work.