Team Session: Client Collaboration
  • Season 3
  • Episode 8

In today’s episode we’re talking with the Viscul team about collaboration. Specifically, how a client can interact with their agency partners and how important it is to keep the lines of communication open throughout the process.


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Jessica & Randall Hughes
Viscul / Fork & Lens

The Viscul Team
Jay Basinger
Tyler Gladhill
Carolina Fudala
Meagan Blasdell

Quote from Carolina Fudala
“I feel like it’s important to bring clients in because the client is ultimately determining how creative we can get. It is important to bring them in on the creative process and have them understand we need to collaborate, not just to offload ideas to them but to have them think about it too because we can get really creative, but it’s up to them how creative we get essentially.”


Jessica: Hey, everyone. We are back today with the team in the studio, and we are super excited to share with you about team collaboration. We have heard this request on a regular basis, of, “I want an agency that is collaborative with me and my team and my company and is going to come alongside us and partner with, but all too often, there’s hiccups in that process.” We’re sitting down with the team and talking about, “What are best [00:00:30] practices? What are the things that have gone wrong? How do we correct them?” all the things. Here we go.

Welcome to the Fork & Lens podcast, brought to you by Viscul. Smells delish. Clients and agencies [00:01:00] obviously collaborate, and depending on the agency, we collaborate in different ways. Every agency has their own process about how they collaborate and how they draw information out of clients and how they work with them, but usually when a project comes in, creatives get very excited, and they don’t necessarily stop to consider everything that the brand needs and wants and the investment that the brand is taking in that creative. Instead, a creative simply just wants to immediately dig in and start [00:01:30] creating. How do we address that? There’s so many unknowns and connections that need to take place first. How do you all go about stopping yourself from getting overly excited and instead thinking about what needs to happen to the business need of the client?

Jay: When you work in discovery sessions with the client, it forces you to step back and not just jump right in. But with a discovery session, [00:02:00] we’re able to go into it with a strategy, have certain questions we know we want answered, information we know we want to get, and even if we think we have an idea, more times than not, we end up learning something new, if not something completely different. I think really forcing that time upfront with the client before jumping in makes all the sense in the world.

Tyler: Yeah. I think that discovery process too really helps get the client in from the beginning so they have a say right away so you’re not way off the mark going into it. [00:02:30] If you’re going off the mark right away, you can steer it right back in their direction, which I think is really beneficial. It saves us a lot of time, and the client too.

Randall: Yeah. I agree. I think just getting in the same room with them, there’s so many times where you learn things that you never even thought to ask that question too, just a general conversation comes out, and that’s where I love just where the client plays a big role in those initial discovery sessions and things and get excited about it because I think [00:03:00] we’ve all been in the artistic process before where the client just says, “Yeah, I have no idea. Just go after it and do something,” and and then you’re just like, “Okay, I hope I hit it. I hope I can figure this out.” We can get so far with research, but nope, the client generally knows their business way better than anybody else. Anytime you can cash in on those nuances and things that they know and put that as part of the creative process, that can be really helpful.

Meagan: Yeah. That was something that I was going to say too, is that we have to always remember that the client is the expert [00:03:30] in whatever it is that they do, and we’re there to be the expert in what we do, which is the creative. We have to find that middle ground where we can take everything that they already know and they’ve already experienced and turn that into something creative and visual for them to use to then support whatever goals that they’re trying to achieve.

Jessica: How do we get clients to play an active role in the artistic process? Because it’s one thing to let them download information, but it’s another [00:04:00] thing to have them actually work with us in that collaborative process.

Tyler: Yeah. I think one of the most helpful things that I’ve been involved in is just some of the exercises that Jess performs, the look and feel cards, just the discovery meetings. Being there, like Randall said, you just hear these little things that you pick up on, little hints at history, little hints at brand personality, and that really helps bring it all together, so just getting in the room with them and getting them to relax too, I think, [00:04:30] just, “We don’t have to take this seriously. We can be fun. We can talk about some things. We can talk about things you hate. We can talk about things you love,” and then just build it from there.

Jay: Even seeing their hair, their glasses, their wardrobe, you start to pick up on who they are and their quirkiness and little nuances.

Carolina: I like what Randall said about cashing in on their nuances. That’s cute. But also, I feel like it’s important to bring clients in because the client is ultimately determining how creative we can get, [00:05:00] so it is important to bring them in on the creative process and have them understand to collaborate, not just to offload ideas to them but to have them think about it too because we can get really creative, but it’s up to them how creative we get essentially.

Randall: Yeah. I love that. I think that’s something too where we do style scapes, and that’s basically putting all the information together and coming up with a creative look in different ways. I feel like that’s initially [00:05:30] a low-commitment way for the client to see where we’re headed visually. Sometimes I think clients are afraid to come in, and we’ve already designed an actual piece or something, and then they feel bad telling us they don’t like it, where when they see three boards of just things that we’ve curated, and they feel like they’re still a part of it because they’re like, “Yeah, I love this. I don’t like that. Maybe we can pull more of that in,” and it just gives them a voice in that. Like I said, it’s not as permanent feeling, I guess.

Meagan: [00:06:00] Yeah. I love providing them options too. With the look and feel cards, it’s fun to see people go through those and think, “I never thought about that before. Yeah, that’s a really great strategy or a really great something I’d like to incorporate in our brand,” but they wouldn’t have already thought about, which is always really rewarding, I think, to come up with something like that.

Jessica: I also think it’s really important that as like account managers, you take the time to have conversations around some of the things that you’re discussing internally as a creative team. For instance, [00:06:30] we were working on a video concept the other week, and I was talking to the client about feedback and other things. I said, “Hey, in your feedback, you didn’t bring this up, but it was something that we had talked about internally, about whether or not this crossed a line in terms of the internal dialogue of the consumer and actually bringing that to the forefront.” Having those questions and that dialogue opens them up to, “Yeah, we did actually talk about that. That was a point [00:07:00] of conversation, but it’s not really impacting the overall feedback,” but my point to them is always, “That helps us filter concepts before they ever get to you in the future. It allows us to further see from your perspective of what you’re looking for.”

Randall: Yeah. On that note though, I think the longer you work with clients… A hard thing to do, especially… we have long-term clients, is to remain creative and not get stuck in those little trends. It can be really hard sometimes because you can sometimes over [00:07:30] anticipate what the client is going to say. It can be a little harder to present interesting ideas. That’s why I love what Carolina was saying. Sometimes just getting in a room and meeting them one-on-one, even if they are a long-term client, still saying, “How far can we push the boundaries here? What can we do?” that way, you don’t just fall back into the same old ways. I think that’s something to keep in mind too.

Jessica: What are some new ways we can begin to explore and discuss artistic collaboration [00:08:00] with clients, especially clients that might not necessarily have an internal creative team or marketing team, but instead are just like, “You guys are the experts. Do what you want,” but you still want that interactive feedback.

Carolina: I think coming up with new ways to talk to them and present ideas and organize information, like Meagan was saying, and Tyler with look and feel cards. I know the discovery sessions are something that are relatively a little bit newer that we’ve started doing. I think we did a version of that before, but we probably called it something else, [00:08:30] but reinventing that process when we talk to clients and changing it up so it feels a little bit fresh every time, so it’s not the same questions.

Randall: Yeah. That was a good note, Carolina, and I think, like you said, we changed it a little bit. To me, it’s just the idea of, “Don’t just get set in the ways that we always do something. Constantly be looking of how we can improve the process and how we can just work closer and closer with the clients.” We’ve repeated this a couple of times, but discovery is a good way to [00:09:00] get started, but I think just continuing throughout the process to include them in the interactions and how we talk to them, and sometimes there’s that idea, that it’s like, “I don’t even know if I want to write this down, but it’d be great to kick it down the street with them a little bit and see where it goes because it could turn into something,” sometimes just having that dialogue. I think having clients that are open to that just opens up the possibilities for creativity to flourish.

Jessica: Yeah. I think having just the regular [00:09:30] conversations too of, “Hey, I’ve noticed this is a trend in this other industry,” or maybe, “These are current events that are happening in your industry,” and just having a generalized conversation with them about that gives you some perspective on where they are and where they’re placing value as well. I know when COVID hit that was something that we did with a lot of our clients, was just, “Hey, we’re seeing other people doing this,” or, “Here’s an idea,” or, “These people are doing this in order to help local restaurants,” or whatever it was, [00:10:00] and just kicking around the things that you’re seeing going on and see where their feedback’s coming in. Are they like, “Yeah, that’s cool. Maybe that’s something we should consider,” or is it, “That’s cool,” and then they move on to the next thing? I think trying to gauge where their values are and where they’re putting their investments in any given moment is important.

Jay: Another thing that helps, and it’s not always possible, but I feel like we’ve been able to do it a few times [00:10:30] is you can actually use the client services or actually use them for what they do to learn about them. We’ve had a couple of consultants who we’ve actually used as consultants, and then we were able to learn so much about them. Then when it came time to actually do projects for them, we knew so much about them. We had socialized with them, we had become friends with them, but I think that can apply to other companies too. If you’re doing a product, you just want to make sure you engage with their product, learn as much about them as you can so when you actually talk to them, you already have [00:11:00] this starting point of familiarity. I think that makes them feel more comfortable, and it’s not so much a business transaction then, but it’s more of a conversation. That’s how you get more loose-feeling answers and personality.

Meagan: Comfort level is huge, and reminding clients that there’s no wrong answers, especially in discovery or brainstorming. I think a lot of people come thinking, “I have to know everything at the same time,” or something like that, and that’s really not the case. We’re [00:11:30] learning, and they’re learning. We can learn off of each other.

Randall: I agree. To go back to Jay’s point, I think we always try to do what we call putting on our customer hat, especially when we work with customers of ours that are in retail and things like that. Being a part of that and actually doing the shopping experience, ordering something online, getting it in, cooking with the product, doing those things actually helps you understand it, and it gives you a perspective that you would never be able to obtain. It also helps you tap into the customer [00:12:00] pain points and things because now you’ve experienced the whole process.

If you order something online, the way that something arrives to your house is a good indication of how much care was put into it when it was put in the box, and then you can just work with some of those different things that you can learn and help them not only from a creative perspective understand how to run the business better, but we’ve often worked with clients where we say, “Hey, you could change this little thing, and it actually impacts your overall customer experience,” so just [00:12:30] paying attention at all of those different stages has been really positive for most of our clients.

Jessica: Yeah. I think you just hit an interesting point, is we look at things as creatives and just from a marketing standpoint, but there’s so many times that I sit in client meetings, and just because of the nature of what I do for Viscul, I think of things through a business lens. I don’t necessarily just think of them from a creative marketing lens. I’ve made recommendations of, “Well, can you tell me why you’re still [00:13:00] offering this product or why you’re still doing this this way?” At the end of the day, for them, it’s a business. They’re not just a marketing team. They have full business metrics behind that. For us to understand that business perspective is really valuable. Okay. What are some of the challenges that we’ve faced with projects where we’re not getting client collaboration and you have that feeling [00:13:30] that the client’s not satisfied? Tell me about some of the times, and I know that you have them, that we’ve had challenges, without naming people or companies?

Randall: Yeah. We’ve run into things in the past where you can either under-communicate or over-communicate sometimes with a client, and it can be really interesting and fun to talk to them in different ways. Try [00:14:00] to think of new ways to communicate with them because if you’re just getting the same responses or you’re just not getting what you need out of them, we have to think out of out of the box and how we can get there. But sometimes we can say that sometimes rush projects are are the worst because then everything’s just a mad dash to get it done.

But then on the flip side, sometimes that’s where you’re getting immediate feedback and you can move forward with it versus having tons of time to work on a project, which can also be amazing, and then it goes on and on and on. You send a proof [00:14:30] over, and because there isn’t this steady, “It has to get done right away,” then they take too long. Then details are missed. I think no matter what you do, it’s just a matter of paying attention to how you’re interacting with the client, how often, what’s their mood like, the level at which they want to be communicated with, and of go from there.

Tyler: Yeah. I know we’ve had some clients that no matter how many times you might ask them for more content, we just cannot get ahold of it, which [00:15:00] does make designing something tough at times, but you have to make it work. Some clients just don’t have access to all the things that you think they might, just depending on what industry they’re in. You never know. Sometimes they’re running all over the country. They’re very busy. They have multiple operations going on. We do our best to make it work.

Meagan: I feel like I have a lot to say on this subject, but [crosstalk 00:15:25]-

Male: Go for it.

Meagan: Yeah, I need to filter some of it though. [00:15:30] I would probably say the biggest challenge on anything is just the communication because I think I mentioned this in an earlier episode, but you never want a client to be surprised at what you’ve given them. Sometimes that boils down to communication. Sometimes that is kind of like what Randall said, timelines get stretched out, or there’s a mad dash to the finish line that you just had to make some decisions, and maybe you didn’t make the right decision, or maybe you got some false information, [00:16:00] or maybe you weren’t actually working directly with the decision-makers. Those are all challenges that we end up facing, so I think ultimately to avoid a lot of those, it’s just over, over, over-communicate.

Tyler: Yeah. I think it’s just keeping them into the loop at all times, just like, “This is what we’re doing. We ran into a speed bump here,” because we’ve had projects where we’re getting the packaging together, we’re getting ready to present an idea, they were like, “Wait a second,” and then we’re just going to totally flip everything we’ve been working on. Sometimes that might take a little bit more time. I think [00:16:30] just keeping them in the loop and letting them know, “Hey, this is what we’re working on,” I think that then they’ll probably be fine with it, or if we got to push, then we got to push.

Randall: I totally agree. I also think it’s important as we go through things to let the client know when they still have plenty of time to give us feedback that’s going to throw the whole thing off or when it’s just too late for that. We have set phases of projects, and personally, I feel like from the client’s standpoint, it’s liberating to say, “I know this whole phase, I can go in there, and I can totally [00:17:00] blow this thing up if I need to. If I wake up in middle of the night and think, ‘This isn’t right,’ we’re at a phase right now where we can still change that,” and then just being super clear from our perspective when, “If you change it after this point, it’s going to impact budget.” I think that helps people trying to think through it a little bit more in those phases where it’s not going to impact budget. Just being clear about those things, I think, can be really helpful.

Jessica: Yeah. Having an outlined scope of, “This is the timeline. This is the budget. These are the milestones.” Usually once you hit [00:17:30] that first milestone, it’s like, “Okay, you’ve literally approved everything that’s happened up to this point. There’s no going back without it affecting scope,” and then you move on to the next milestone. You have the wiggle room in that milestone. Once that’s approved, you can’t go back without a [inaudible 00:17:46], and it continuously repeats itself.

Carolina: All that being said, there’s no project that’s perfect. There’s always going to be problem-solving at some level. I don’t know about design, but for video and stuff, every project we have has bumps in [00:18:00] the road, has things we have to actively problem-solve, and I think we do a pretty good job of communicating that with our clients. We can always do better, of course. We can always improve on everything, but I do think that we have a pretty good foundational solid team that does communicate internally and can communicate those things to clients so that they aren’t surprised when they see those things. I think it’s pretty rare when we have clients that are surprised.

Randall: I think it’s important too that sometimes it’s hard… Design, you can go through [00:18:30] all those phases, and the client knows where things are going to go, but if we’re on a doc shoot or documentary shoot or something like that, we’re steering the conversation, but it can go a way that we weren’t all expecting. If it really goes off-kilter, we can communicate that with the client, but sometimes there’s the client knowing you and the agency and having faith in that you have their best interests at heart and saying, especially if it’s a longer-term client, “We’ve worked with you long enough [00:19:00] to know what we need to get out of this, and we’re going to continue to push to get that,” because you don’t always have a second chance when it comes to shooting things like that.

Jessica: Yeah. There’s a lot of trends that I’ve have been seeing happen or have been watching happen within our industry. There we go. We’re seeing agencies actually send in their AEs to the client for X number of hours or days a week in order to be more of an extension of their team. [00:19:30] With our clients that have a lot going on and a lot of projects in the mix with us, we do regularly scheduled calls with them on a weekly basis to review the status of everything and talk about what’s coming up, “What are the different initiatives that are happening within the business that we should be aware of that could impact the work that we’re working on?” Sometimes I think we have to do our due diligence, but to a certain extent, the client needs to do as much [00:20:00] due diligence from there, and of making sure that they’re keeping the agency as informed as possible as an ongoing partner.

We have our clients that are just one-offs, like, “Hey, I need a brand. I need a package. I need a website,” and then they go and do their thing. But then we also have clients that are recurring, and they’ve been with us for years. Those are the ones that you make sure that they’re reciprocating the communication as much as you’re providing it.

Meagan: I think that’s almost good advice to clients too. [00:20:30] The more excited and more communicative a client is, the more responsive that we’ll be too. If there’s something that they really want, and they can easily communicate with that, then that just helps streamline everything.

Jessica: Well, and it also allows us just to hit the mark closer on first proof than third, fifth proof. The more information that we have, the more insight that we have, the more we understand where they’re coming from with it, and why they’re doing a specific project or initiative or whatever [00:21:00] it is. It allows us just to be able to be more efficient and effective for them.

Meagan: Audibly nodding head.

Jessica: Audibly nodding head.

Male: Yes. Yes.

Jessica: Yes. All right. Well, thanks guys. This was a great conversation. Hopefully everyone got some insight out of it that is listening, and we will talk to you soon. [00:21:30] As always, every meal is better shared. Feel free to share Fork and Lens with your team, colleagues, and friends. If you enjoyed today’s message, please subscribe to get weekly access to new recipes for creative and marketing success. You can also check us [00:22:00] out at or Until next time.