5 tips for bridging the gap between account and creative

At a marketing agency, the relationship between the account and the creative sides can be hard to manage. People in both worlds can approach the same project with very different perspectives and objectives.

“I don’t understand why the designer takes SO LONG to get this project back to me. The client wanted it by noon today!” — every account service person ever

“My account person is asking me every 15 minutes if I’m done yet. They don’t understand that this stuff takes time!” — every designer ever

Sound familiar?

As an art director at Two Rivers Marketing, I live on the creative side of things. I’m lucky to have good relationships with people on both sides of our business. The frustrated conversations I hear between account and creative seem to be rooted in a misunderstanding about what the other side does and why they do it.

I’m here to help. In hopes of improving relationships between account executives and designers everywhere, I’ve come up with five ways to improve the relationship — from a designer’s perspective.

Write a creative brief

One of the most helpful things an account person can do for a creative person is to kickoff a project with a strong creative brief.

A creative brief with specific goals can serve as our roadmap throughout the creative process. Sometimes designers work on multiple projects, so this document helps us quickly get back into a project and reminds us of our goals.

Designers prefer a brief somewhere between too much brief (several paragraphs that go into every possible detail) and not enough/too vague of a brief (e.g., “Jazz it up, please.”). Clarity at the project kickoff means more efficiency downstream. Which ultimately means fewer revisions and happier clients.

Give me time to design

Sometimes it takes a long time for a designer to do something. Sometimes it doesn’t. It really depends on what is involved in the project and how many design programs we need to use.

For example, a designer making a “simple text change” on an HTML5 banner ad needs about quadruple the time it would take to make a “simple text change” on a print ad laid out in InDesign.

This is why it is so important for the account team to talk to their designers about the time needed for the project. Ask questions. Learn the basic process and time needed to do design work. Use that information to provide a realistic timeline in that awesome creative brief you’re writing for us.

Side note: This tip can help you stay on your designer’s good side. We don’t love working with people who consistently drop in with last-minute projects. Yes, we understand it is often out of your control. But if designers have the time to do things right, it really does pay off with a better product.

Is the client’s building on fire and the only thing that will save them is a hastily-designed brochure? Then yes, let’s all stay late and get it done! But if this isn’t the case, let’s take the time to get it done right.

Maintain healthy boundaries

Collaboration among cross-functional associates is critical at a full-service marketing agency. This means that everyone should know what role they play on the team.People on the account team have an in-depth knowledge of their client through their relationships. This can come in handy when giving feedback on a project. But as the art director, it’s frustrating when others act like the design expert.

When you do have a question, concern, or idea, know that I’m more receptive to feedback if it’s formed as a question: Do you think we should bold this subhead?

When you ask questions, you let us show off our expertise. I might think you have a great idea or maybe I’ll explain that I already considered your idea, but decided there were already too many words in bold and it would mess with the hierarchy to add any more. Starting a conversation with a question allows everyone to have input into a solution we’re all happy with.

Just trust me

Designers are good at what we do. So please trust us! Let us come up with the creative solution. Designers are inherently problem-solvers. We thrive on this stuff. Nothing can kill an account-creative relationship faster than giving us the solution instead of the underlying problem.

An example would be our client saying, “We would like the headline to stand out more.” Then my account person saying to me, “Make the font bigger on the headline.” This is interpreting the solution, rather than presenting me with the problem.

A better situation would be the account person to simply state the problem: “The client would like the headline to stand out more.” Then, I can consider every solution to find the best way to fix that problem. Maybe it’s making the font bigger, but maybe a better solution would be to bold it or make it a different color. I need the freedom to make that decision.

Build our relationship

You know how people who have been married for 80 years always say “marriage is hard work” … well, same goes for the account-creative relationship.

It’s the responsibility of account and creative to keep communications open and friendly. Get lunch together. Grab a coffee. Just swing by my desk and ask how my great-aunt’s surgery went. When everyone puts some work in on the front end, it’s easier to get through those hard conversations.

Hopefully, these tips will help create a great working relationship with your creative team. My hope is for everyone to have a little more understanding about where the other side is coming from. A better understanding of each other will pay off for everyone by improving job satisfaction, strengthening your team, and delivering the best possible solutions for the client.

I’d love to hear from other designers about how you build strong relationships with your account teams — and any tips or comments from the account service pros too!