6 Rules to Making Inspiring Creative, Learned From Great Clients

They’ll push you to make memorable ads

Illustration of an industrial building with purple, yellow and pink layers and a lightbulb on the tallest one.
Working together with clients will help build a trusting creative process.

In my entire career, I can’t recall one instance of a client saying, “We’d like you to create average work. That’s all this brand needs.”

Nobody wants average work. But creating advertising that transforms brands is not a process for the faint of heart. It takes soul-searching, hard questions, candor, collaboration and daring. No wonder so few ideas and even fewer relationships make it to the other end.

And yet some clients do it with regularity. What do they do differently? As I look at the lessons I’ve learned from the best clients I’ve worked with, I’ve identified six rules that set them apart.

They own the idea

Susan Credle, my creative partner, and I share this fundamental belief: great work and iconic campaigns are the brainchildren of individual clients, not organizations. I call this person “the owner of the idea.”

Typically, it’s the CMO, but anyone in a client organization who has the determination and belief to sell and protect the idea can play this role.

The owner of the idea accepts specific responsibilities to protect its fragility. They become the single point person, limit meetings to critical stakeholders and restrict contributions in those meetings to a select few. They filter everyone’s input, take ownership of shepherding the idea from inception to audience delivery and never delegate those responsibilities until the idea is secure.

They are human 

Great work comes from great people, and better clients attract better people. They do this in ways that can best be described as human.

Great clients are on a mission to create iconic work that produces lasting, meaningful brands.

They are ambitious and empathetic. They are thoughtful and decisive. They are generous and hold high standards. They care relentlessly about the work and even more about the people behind it. They are grateful and open. And they never make it about them.

Following these simple tenets is infectious. It gets people with world-class talent to bleed for you.

These clients wear their passion for their brands on their sleeves and desire for great work in their hearts. They seek and welcome feedback, and their drive to do great things inspires us at every step of the journey.

They trust creativity

Creativity is the most valuable resource for any modern business, but unlocking its power demands courage, patience and especially trust. Those attributes are table stakes for the best clients.

They recognize that creativity requires risk. Ideas need time to develop. People who think laterally need room to do so, and the ability to express an idea gets richer and deeper with time and reflection. Such a creative process does not create a predictable, straightforward procedure, which creates challenges for clients that are looking for exactly that.

Great clients are unwavering in their commitment to the idea, usually without empirical evidence to support their faith. And when uncertainty and risk emerge, clients recognize those variables as a good sign that the idea before them just became worth trusting.

They read Gideon Amichay

Gideon Amichay wrote the book No, No, No, No, No, Yes. His premise is that great ideas will be met with a no five times before it becomes a yes.

Great clients are on a mission to create iconic work that produces lasting, meaningful brands. When others say it’s not possible or it’s never been done before, they fight tooth and nail to make it happen.

Creative perseverance yields great work despite tremendous obstacles. Some of the most noteworthy work involves challenges so immense that most people would shy away from the idea. But in one recent such project, “Whopper Detour,” the client refused to take no for an answer—from anyone. Not the agency, not his organization, not his tech partners. The client was thoughtful, listened to everyone and expanded the timeline to deliver the idea the right way and pushed past the no’s to get to the yes. Just last month, the work took home one of the highest honors in the industry, a Cannes Lions titanium Grand Prix.

They don’t BS 

Great clients say what they mean. If they need a piece of short-term tactical work for their sales team, they don’t say they need a ground-breaking creative idea.

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